KOBE, Japan (AFP) – Argentina know their Rugby World Cup rests on a must-win game against Tonga in Osaka today.
Semi-finalists in 2007 and 2015, the Pumas started their Pool C campaign with a heartbreaking 23-21 loss to France.
Argentina were 20-3 behind at the break only to stage a dramatic second-half rally and take a one-point lead, before a drop goal from Camille Lopez condemned them to an agonising defeat.
England, who’ve beaten both Tonga and the United States in their opening two matches, are expected to top Pool C and take one of the two quarter-final places on offer.
That means Argentina realistically require a bonus-point win over the Pacific islanders this weekend if they are to deprive France of the second qualifying spot.
“What pains us is how well we played in one half and how badly in the other, knowing all the time that we are perfectly capable of playing 80 minutes of high-intensity, intelligent and fast rugby,” said Argentina centre Jeronimo de la Fuente.
“We are fully aware of how important the clash with France was, and it hurt to lose. We are fully confident that we will show up against Tonga, and against England and the USA afterwards.”
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Mario Ledesma insisted all was not lost for his side.
“We must do what we set out to do,” Ledesma said.
“Against France, we didn’t in the first 40 minutes, so this time we must remain focussed and overcome our mistakes. The most dangerous teams are the ones who aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
Pumas captain Pablo Matera added, “If we are talking about confidence, the team stands firm and tall, because what we did during the second half with France we can always replicate.”
Tonga were well beaten 35-3 by England in their opening match of this World Cup, with the defeat made worse by the fact both centre Nafi Tuitavake (arm) and fly-half Kurt Morath (throat) suffered tournament-ending injuries.
Their last World Cup match against Argentina, a 45-16 loss in England four years ago, literally left its mark on some Tonga players.
“I don’t remember much, but I remember this,” said flanker Sione Kalamafoni, pointing to a scar on his right knee.
“It’s from that game.”
Meanwhile, Siale Piutau, the Tonga captain, took heart from their gutsy performance against England and the fact Uruguay beat the odds to beat Fiji in the first upset of this World Cup.
“There was definitely a lot of good stuff (against England), he said.
“The physicality was much improved from the previous game (a 92-7 warm-up loss to world champions New Zealand in Hamilton).”
As for facing Argentina, the centre added, “It will be another physical battle come Saturday. The scrum and line-out is also our strength and if we can match them I think we will have a good platform.”
And turning to Uruguay’s 30-27 defeat of Fiji, Piutau said, “We have seen there is a chance there. Once the stars are aligned there’s a wonderful opportunity for us.”