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Pumas bow out in style
Graham Jenkins reports from Paris
October 20, 2007

"How they deserve their celebration, for bringing a freshness and enthusiasm that like it or not has shaken up the sport's traditional powers." Graham Jenkins reports

It wasn't supposed to be like this, these games are normally dull encounters with little riding on them except these two sides didn't read the script.

OK, Wales' narrow win over Australia in 1987 is an exception but recent memory had most hacks expecting little out of this game.

This was supposed to be merely the hors d'œuvres, a taster ahead of the main course, that comes in the form of tomorrow's final but instead we were served a feast of running rugby, an entertaining clash that ranks as one of the best of the tournament.

It helped that these sides had a little history - namely the opening game of this year's tournament when Argentina gate-crashed France's party so spectacularly.

Tempers flared on more than one occasion and it was soon clear that this was not going to be a run of the mill play-off clash and that these sides meant business - in terms of crunching tackles and toe-to-toe physicality.

France were out to even some scores, and finish on a high to give their fans something to cheer about after they failed to turn up in last weekend's semi-final against England.

However, Argentina also had a lot to prove after blowing their chance of World Cup glory across Paris against South Africa in their semi-final just six days ago.

The result? A highly-entertaining clash for the neutral, a frustrating one for the home fans and for Argentina's supporters, the latest example that their side are no longer an emerging force, they are very much here and now.

The intent was evident from the off with France flying out of the blocks with some flair that was sadly lacking when they needed it most last weekend.

Time and time again in the opening quarter they stretched the Pumas' defence to breaking point but each time the brave South Americans thwarted their hosts.

Another day, another match, France would have had the game won - but today all they had to show for their endeavour was a solitary penalty.

After weathering an offensive storm, the Pumas steadily took control of the game.

A Felipe Contepomi penalty saw them draw level and tries from the Pumas' centre and another from Omar Hasan suddenly set them on their way to a 17-3 half time lead - unbelievable, but that term has had plenty of use in the last few weeks.

France's fire and resentment at being in arrears after dominating so much of the opening period reached a crescendo before the break.

An amazing succession of sorties towards the Argentinian line failed to breach the defence and frustration got the better of them in a spat that saw Raphael Ibanez and Rimas Alvarez Kaireils sent to the bin.

The French skipper lashed a water bottle into the ground and boos rang around the stadium as the players headed to the tunnel.

Things got worse for the French after the break - apparently too late to change their approach. The Pumas relished the opportunity to return to the running game that they know best and a sweeping move led to one of the tries of the tournament with Federico Martin Aramburu adding the finishing touches.

There was a brief respite for France when Clement Poitrenaud dotted down but an intercept try from Ignacio Corleto and another from Contepomi set the seal on France's misery - they were a broken directionless team well before the final whistle.

As 'Je ne regrette rien' played on the stadium PA, France's fans and players stood in disbelief at how they had finished a tournament that they had such high hopes for.

The party for the Pumas had begun for their fans well before the final whistle but the players joined them at the end of the game to celebrate their greatest achievement on the world stage.

And how they deserve their celebration, for bringing a freshness and enthusiasm that like it or not has shaken up the sport's traditional powers.

The Pumas leave this tournament having lost only one game - and that to perhaps the likely winners.

The farce that is their bit-part role on the international stage must be brought to an end at the earliest opportunity.

World Cup 2007 supremo Bernard Lapasset was unveiled as the new IRB chairmain before this match and if he wants to get off on the right foot in his new role he will be best served in ensuring that Argentina are afforded the respect and competition they deserve - be that the Tri Nations or the Six Nations.

For France, a changing of the guard is now on the cards before the Six Nations rolls around, with the coaching void set to be left by Bernard Laporte their main concern. Watch this space as the international coaching merry-go-round gathers pace.

The last role France will play in their tournament will be as hosts of tomorrow's final, which if half as entertaining as this encounter will prove to be fitting finale.

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