A tribute to Los Pumas
November 15, 2012
Argentina celebrate Juan Imhoff's try which helped them to a memorable win over Wales © PA Photos
Argentina shocked the Millennium Stadium with a powerful 26-12 win over Wales on Saturday but it is not the first time that they have upset the world order. This week's Scrum Sevens looks back at some of the most important results in their eclectic rugby history.
The 18-3 triumph in Brisbane marked a historic occasion for Los Pumas. It was the first time the men wearing blue and white had downed one of rugby's superpowers. They had previously turned over various select sides and their fellow South America neighbours, but the win over Australia announced them on the world stage. They scrummed the Wallabies off the field, a performance which exposed the home side's pack to "stunning humiliation", according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
They crossed for two pushover tries with No.8 Buenaventura Minguez and flanker Tomas Peterson both scoring while an Australian team, which included the likes of David Campese, Mark Ella and Simon Poidevin, only managed a solitary penalty through Campese. Argentina faced Australia again a week later in Sydney and it was the Wallabies who prevailed 29-13.
Prior to their match against France in 1985, Argentina had managed to previously dispatch an Ireland select side and a Scotland XV but neither clash was a recognised capped match from the European sides' point of view. Their first triumph against one of the Five Nations in a fully fledged Test came in 1985 when the Pumas met Les Bleus at the Ferrocaril Oeste in Buenos Aires.
France, who had finished second in the two previous Five Nations, were out-powered and out-played by the hosts. The home side led 15-6 at half-time thanks to scores from Fabian Turnes and Ernesto Ure but France fought back with Serge Blanco and Jean-Baptiste Lafond going over for tries that put them within two points of the Pumas. But late penalties from the majestic Hugo Porta secured a memorable 24-16 victory for Argentina. According to a Reuters report at the time, key "to Argentina's victory was their superb marking, which broke down France's renowned quick-passing game".
Fresh from a 33-20 defeat to the All Blacks the week before, the Pumas went into their second and final Test against the Kiwis looking to save face. It was at the same ground as their previous Test in front of a similar sized crowd, but it was an altogether different match. In arguably Argentina's best ever result on the Test field, they held the Kiwis to a 21-21 draw.
They were outscored four tries to nil, with Craig Green, Murray Mexted and a double from John Kirwan putting them under the cosh, but it was that man Hugo Porta who once again proved to be the darling of the Buenos Aires crowd. He slotted four penalties and three drop-goals to bring up Argentina's tally in a result that ended New Zealand's six-Test winning run which included the scalps of England and Australia. It was the closest they have come to defeating to the All Blacks.
Argentina celebrate their win over Ireland © PA Photos
After both sides recorded two wins from three in the pool stages of the 1999 World Cup, they came face-to-face in the quarter-final play-offs in Lens. This was by no means a great Ireland side, they had won just one game during the previous Five Nations, but they were hot favourites going into the match. The Irish, however, came up against a fired-up Argentina outfit - consisting of "amateur club players and various journeymen from the French leagues", according to the Irish Independent - who overcame Warren Gatland's men 28-24, a match which included a 14-man lineout from the Irish as they desperately tried to regain the pill in the dying embers of the match.
The defeat ended Irish dreams of playing France in the quarter-finals in Dublin and it was the Pumas who progressed. And the loss had larger ramifications for the Irish outlook on rugby. In the aftermath, the Irish Rugby Football Union changed its focus so that selection was centred on players turning out in Ireland and they later faced the ignominy of having to qualify for the 2003 World Cup.
Argentina travelled to the northern hemisphere for two November Tests in 2001 and it could not have gone better for Marcelo Loffreda's men. They met with Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the first of their two clashes and Felipe Contepomi guided them to a famous 30-16 victory scoring a try and kicking a conversion, five penalties and a drop-goal.
The match was also Iestyn Harris' debut - the rugby league convert who cost the WRU a reported £1m. He also cost Wales two tries in the match as Contepomi charged down his kick to score in the first-half and his wayward clearance allowed Gonzalo Carmardon to gather it and score in the second 40. Wales' performance was greeted with a series of boos and then coach Graham Henry conceded: "We're not very good really". The Pumas went on to beat Scotland the following week 25-16 with Contepomi once again their shining light.
Argentina enjoy the moment in front of the Twickenham crowd © PA Photos
Although he is now England's most-capped player out of the current crop, Toby Flood's debut was not one to remember, instead it will be regarded as one of Argentina's greatest ever wins. The 25-18 loss equalled England's worst run of defeats - seven on the bounce - and although Paul Sackey's try gave England a 10-9 advantage at half-time, Pumas replacement Federico Todeschini kept the scoreboard ticking over in the second period and also crossed for an intercept try.
The abjectness of England's performance was summed up by Paul Ackford in the Sunday Telegraph: "There was no leadership, no pace on the game for the first hour, no sense in the selection of a back row where Pat Sanderson and Shaun Perry got in a terrible tangle for a second time in a row, no off-loading out of the tackle, too many penalties given away in England's half, poor control of the ball in contact. In fact, there was not one area where England could be said to have performed tolerably well."
England bounced back the following week against South Africa but that win was not enough to save Andy Robinson who was dispatched from his post on November 29, 2006, with just 14 wins out of 27 games in charge of England to his name.
The scene was set - France were opening their 2007 World Cup campaign in front of a sold-out Stade de France and were facing a team three places below them in the IRB rankings. It should have, on paper, been a resounding triumph for Les Bleus. But they were facing their nemesis, the Argentinians, and it was the Pumas that silenced the partisan French crowd.
It was a World Cup that captured the imagination of Argentina. El Superclásico - the Buenos Aires football derby - had to be moved to allow the population to watch their quarter-final with Scotland and they ended up finishing a very respectable third - beating France again in the bronze medal play-off.
But it was the 17-12 win over France that kick-started the whole campaign. Juan Martin Hernandez was pulling the strings majestically at fly-half while Felipe Contepomi kept the scoreboard ticking over from inside centre. Ignacio Corleto scored their sole try and all that France could muster was four penalties from David Skrela. Wins over Ireland, Georgia, Namibia and Scotland followed before eventual winners South Africa ended their World Cup dream at the semi-final stage.
The campaign set the foundations for their charge into the 2012 Rugby Championship, with scrum-half and talisman Agustin Pichot influential in both triumphs. "Argentina should be proud. I think we do exist," said Pichot in the aftermath of their win over France. "We're not the best tactical players or the best technically, but our best resources are the passion and pride when we put on the jersey."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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