The Glory of '95: Argentina's Los Pumas not crying anymore
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BEFORE the 1995 World Cup, Argentina had pulled off the odd “big scalp” over the years.
The highly competitive sides of the late 1970s and 1980s, led by prolific flyhalf Hugo Porta, made history by beating a number of top Test teams, starting with Australia in Buenos Aires in 1979.
The South American Jaguars that toured South Africa in 1982 was also a virtual Argentina team in disguise, and Porta scored all the points in a memorable 21-12 win over the Springboks in Bloemfontein.
But these were just fleeting moments of success, when compared to their performances at Rugby World Cups.
They got off to the worst possible start in the inaugural tournament in New Zealand in 1987, going down 28-9 to Fiji in Hamilton.
They got on to the board in their next game with a 25-16 victory over Italy, but were knocked out of the event by a rampant host nation, with the All Blacks charging to a 46-15 landslide.
The 1991 tournament was even worse, with three consecutive defeats to Australia, Wales and Western Samoa.
Their draw in 1995 in South Africa was a bit more favourable. England were Pool B favourites, but with a new-look squad that boasted the likes of emerging stars such as Lisandro Arbizu, Diego Albanese, Federico Mendez and Patricio Noriega, they would’ve hoped to get out of their group and reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Argentina at least got past Italy in their final pool match, but it was not enough to reach the last-eight.
So, from the highs of beating the Wallabies and Springboks away from home in the early 1980s, Argentina’s rugby was down in the dumps a decade later.
There was finally some light in their World Cup tunnel in 1999, where the event was hosted by Wales, with matches also played in England, Scotland, Ireland and France.
They made the quarter-finals for the first time, but France were just too strong in the last-eight, though, running away 47-26.
In 2003, Ireland replacement flyhalf Ronan O’Gara slotted two late penalties, and Ireland held on for a 16-15 win to knock Argentina out of the tournament in their last Pool game.
After all the promise shown in previous years, Argentina finally made the world sit up and take notice at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
They again drew Ireland in the pool stage, and along with France, were in the ‘Group of Death’ in Pool D.
And they made an impression from the opening game, against hosts France. With a number of their players already featuring in the French Top 14, Los Pumas were not intimidated by the Les Bleus in front of a 80 000-capacity Stade de France crowd either, with Felipe Contepomi’s four penalties and Ignacio Corleto’s try enough for a 17-12 triumph.
And captain Agustin Pichot’s men weren’t done yet. After easing past Georgia and Namibia, they came up against old foes Ireland. Centres Brian O’Driscoll and Geordan Murphy scored tries for the Irish, but Contepomi’s steady boot and three drop goals by classy flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez secured a 30-15 victory, and gave coach Marcelo Loffreda’s team top spot in the pool.
Argentina were certainly favourites in their quarter-final against Scotland, and while they didn’t dominate, a 19-13 win was enough to set up an almighty semi-final showdown with the Springboks.
Jake White’s men had cruised through the pool stages, but survived a spirited onslaught from Fiji in the quarter-finals to reach the last-four.
There were no such heart-stopping moments against Los Pumas, though, as the Boks dominated the physical exchanges and Percy Montgomery’s seven goal-kicks saw the South Africans sail into the final 37-13.
It was the end of Argentina’s fairytale, but just to underline the fact that their performance in the tournament wasn’t a fluke, they thrashed France 34-10 in the third-place play-off to announce themselves as a true Tier 1 nation.