Argentina claimed a 45-16 bonus-point victory over Tonga in Sunday’s Pool B encounter at the Leicester City Stadium. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
With one round of matches remaining, the result puts Los Pumas in pole position to progress out of this pool as runners-up behind the All Blacks, who have already qualified for the quarter-finals.
Tonga held a slender one-point log advantage over the Argentinians coming into this contest, so the outcome was always going to be crucial.
In a match with a little bit of everything, both sides made it a spectacle with a number of excellent tries. Wing Juan Imhoff became Argentina's top World Cup try-scorer, flyhalf Kurt Morath extended his record as Tonga's all-time leading point-scorer, but it was flyhalf Nicolas Sánchez who ran the show with a try, four conversions and as many penalties for a 25-point tally.
The Tongans, who made a promising start, must be credited – but Argentina were their own worst enemies during the early stages, falling off tackles coupled with a high count of unforced errors.
Six minutes into the game, Morath broke through the defence to round off a well-worked team effort. After conceding the initial try, Argentina clawed their way back to create an opportunity for Sánchez to pull three points back.
The momentum shifted moments later when the South Americans scored two superb converted tries by Joaquin Tuculet and Imhoff in less than a minute, to have football legend Diego Maradona on his feet in celebration.
The pivots exchanged penalties again, before loosehead prop Soane Tonga’uiha struck back for Tonga just before the break, reducing the deficit to 20-13.
Morath and Sánchez began the second half like they ended the first, trading penalties, but Argentina's superiority shone through thereafter. Once the Pumas' scrummaging improved in the second stanza, Tonga were blown away.
Sanchez added his fourth penalty, before tries by himself, replacement Julian Montoya and wing Santiago Cordero capped off a brilliant performance.
Argentina – Tries: Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sánchez, Julian Montoya, Santiago Cordero. Conversions: Sánchez (4). Penalties: Sánchez (4).
Tonga – Tries: Kurt Morath, Soane Tonga’uiha. Penalties: Morath (2).
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Tonga – 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joseph Tuineau, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Halani ‘Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Subs: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Sitiveni Mafi, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 David Halaifonua.
Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images