Nicolás Sánchez kicked 20 points to steer Argentina to a hard-fought 30-24 win over Italy in Santa Fe on Saturday.
While Italy, in their first outing under new coach Conor O’Shea, played much better than in the Six Nations earlier this year, Argentina found a way to beat them.
In a match that swung one way then the other, both sides scored two tries thanks to enterprising play, but in the end Italy’s ill-discipline in the red zone cost them. Sanchéz booted six penalties to win his kicking duel with Carlo Canna, who knocked over four.
The opening few minutes were dominated by stern defence, forcing both captains to opt for kicks at goal to get on the board. Sanchéz converted two penalty goals either side of Canno’s first attempt to put Argentina 6-3 up. Wing Manuel Montero, who missed the World Cup through injury, then completed his return to Test rugby with a try that originated from a well-weighted grubber kick.
However, when Guido Petty was sent to the sin bin for foul play, Italy took full advantage with a try by Leonardo Sarto and two Canna penalties before Sánchez responded with two three-pointers for a 17-13 scoreline in favour of the hosts at the break.
Although the lead traded hands soon after the restart, when Canna added another penalty, a quickfire 13-point haul paved the way for an Argentina win.
Sánchez edged his team ahead with his fifth penalty before making a brilliant break from inside his own half to set up wing Matías Moroni for a converted try. The flyhalf capped off a fine individual performance with a sixth penalty to make it 30-19.
Openside flank Simone Favaro cut the lead with a second try for Italy, but Argentina held on for the win.
Argentina – Tries: Manuel Montero, Matías Moroni. Conversion: Nicolás Sánchez. Penalties: Sánchez (6).
Italy – Tries: Leonardo Sarto, Simone Favaro. Conversion: Carlo Canna. Penalties: Canna (4).
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Thomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Santiago García Botta.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Ramiro Moyano.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 David Odiete, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
Photo: Paul Cunningham/Getty Images