By Lobsang DS Subirana
Sports Desk, Sep 22 (EFE).- Argentina weathered the storm Friday thanks to the pinpoint accuracy of Emiliano Boffelli’s boot, which was pivotal to overcome a physical Samoa side that rued their poor kicking and indiscipline during their Rugby World Cup encounter in Saint-Etienne.
The Argentine fans were in full voice during the Pool D encounter, which saw man-of-the-match Boffelli score all but the last three points of his team’s 19-10 victory over the Polynesian outfit at a rainy Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
“We really want them to know how much we love them (…) We want to make sure we play better for them,” Los Pumas coach Michael Cheika said about his team’s supporters after the match.
It was the start Los Pumas wanted, as Samoan fullback Duncan Paia’ua received a yellow card within the first 40 seconds of the game for pushing Argentine scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou into fly-half Santiago Carreras as he was looking to catch a high ball.
Los Pumas played the subsequent 10 minutes in Samoa’s half, patiently building phases and asking questions of coach Seilala Mapusua men’s defense. And they found the answer when they eventually spotted some open space to score their first try and calm the nerves.
A ruck at the very far left side near Samoa’s 22-meter line developed into a slick passage of play through to the other edge, where blindside winger Matteo Carreras found his openside counterpart Boffelli, who cut in to beat a couple of defenders and fall just short of the five-meter line.
The No. 14 reached out and grounded the ball, slotting in the conversion himself to put the Pumas on the front foot, in a perfect demonstration of exploiting numerical advantage.
Samoa took time to settle in, with an erratic Christian Leali’ifano missing an easy penalty, which would sum up the fly-half’s first day off the tee. At the other end, the infallible Boffelli slotted his, in a marked reliability contrast between the sides, as the winger produced a kicking masterclass throughout the match.
Leali’ifano did finally find the uprights moments later, but even this shot tellingly bounced off the crossbar before plopping over. Samoa’s basics were letting them down, and their lineout also began to malfunction, while Los Pumas seemed to rescue points from most of their 22-meter zone entries through their kicker’s boot.
The latest came from a quick throw near Samoa’s 10-meter line, which fullback Juan Cruz Mallia used to catch defenders off-guard and race into the five-meter line, where Argentina began a bruising sequence of carries that bore them an easy penalty for Boffelli in front of the posts.
Leali’ifano missed yet another kick, which would have brought them within a converted try just before half time, a problem that was now becoming obvious.
And though coach Cheika’s men’s fast-flowing rugby seemed incompatible with the conditions at times, it was the South Americans that went leading to the change of ends.
They came out swinging in the second half, in a carbon copy of the first, piling pressure on Samoa’s red zone and drawing penalties after a lengthy spell of possession. But Los Pumas were let down by their inefficiency, and though Boffelli scored again off a lineout move, it was from a double movement that gave Samoa the penalty and let Mapusua’s men off the hook.
However, the winger reverted to his ever-reliable right boot to once again extend his team’s lead from the tee after another penalty went against Samoa, who were now beginning to sail adrift on the scoreboard.
Argentina on the other hand, seemed in cruise control, dominating 65 percent of the possession and 90 percent of the territory in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
But handling errors cost the South Americans, as Cheika’s men found themselves defending their five-meter area against the run of play, when Mallia was forced to take and ground the ball in his in-goal area under pressure. It was the work of Samoan scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine, who was a nuisance to Los Pumas’ defense for the entire match.
Taumateine’s impertinence paid off, as Samoa looked to have secured a lifeline try from that incursion into the five-meter line when replacement hooker Sama Malolo crashed over from close range following a slew of pick-and-gos that he used to touch down near the posts.
Substitute Alai D’Angelo Leuila nailed the conversion to keep the hopes of a late comeback alive. But it wasn’t to be, as veteran fly-half Nicolas Sanchez – who had just entered the field minutes earlier – took advantage of another Samoan indiscipline to put the match beyond their reach.
“(The win) was very important because we knew it wasn’t going to be easy (…) the support was incredible,” Boffelli said when asked about the match and the fans’ support.
Samoan captain Chris Vui said later that he was proud of the performance of his team, who will however be concerned about the 36 tackles they missed and their inaccurate kicking.
And in spite of this, it hadn’t been easy for Los Pumas, who showed in glimpses that they can be a clinical attacking outfit when their discipline and nerve holds out. Against Samoa, they found a way to beat arguably their second toughest pool opponent.
“We did a lot of good things with pressure, with the ball and without,” Cheika said, adding that they however lacked the edge in the Samoa danger zone.
Argentine captain Julian Montoya also said that there are “a lot of things to improve, the ruck was a bit messy at times,” but added that “the fight of the team was awesome, I’m very proud of this team.”
Los Pumas now look to build momentum before an all-South American affair sees them face Chile next week in Nantes, while Samoa will face Japan in Toulouse, needing a win to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive . EFE