LEICESTER, ENGLAND – Argentina moved closer to a place in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals with flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez’s 25 points in a comprehensive 45-16 win over Tonga in their Pool C match on Sunday.
Argentina scored five tries to get a bonus point that should be enough to for a place in the last eight, unless the Pumas lose to Namibia, and Tonga gets an unlikely win with a bonus point against tournament favorite New Zealand in their last games.
The crowd of 29,124 at Leicester’s City Stadium included football great Diego Maradona, and he turned into the No. 1 cheerleader.
Maradona, who made Argentina’s No. 10 shirt so famous, did high-fives with people around him and jumped up and down at every try.
It was another No. 10, Sanchez, who ran the show for the Pumas, and he became the tournament’s leading scorer with 51 points so far.
“Nicolas had a very good game, he’s got a great foot,” Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade said through a translator. “He did what we expect from him.”
Argentina’s other tries came from fullback Joaquin Tuculet, wingers Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero, and replacement hooker Julian Montoya.
By the time Cordero barged his way over for the fifth try, Maradona was shouting and waving his blue-and-white scarf around his head.
After the match, he paid a visit to the Argentina dressing room and joined in the celebrations.
“We didn’t know he would be here watching us. He took some of our shirts, gave us one of his shirts as well,” Argentina’s captain and hooker Agustin Creevy said. “He gave us a speech. He said: ‘The whole of Argentina is with us.’ We danced and we played a song, it was beautiful and something different for us.”
Maradona was a fine finisher in his time, scoring one of football’s best ever goals against England at the 1986 soccer World Cup.
Argentina’s rugby team contains some decent finishers, too.
Imhoff and Cordero earlier scored two tries each in the 54-9 win against Georgia, and their pace and elusive running make them a threat for any defense in open space.
Still, Hourcade was frustrated by his side’s performance at times.
“Our defense was not as good as it has been,” he said. “There was a lack of coordination at times in the scrum, we have players who need to get used to the way we scrum.”
Flyhalf Kurt Morath and frontrower Soane Tonga’uiha got the tries for Tonga, which led 5-0 early and created numerous scoring opportunities.
Morath took his try well but his kicking let him down, particularly early in the second half when he missed two kicks that could have put serious pressure on the Pumas.
He also failed to convert both tries.
Tonga recycled quickly and it almost led to a second try from scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua, but the ball slipped from his hands near the left corner.
A booming kick from Sanchez from 45 meters got Argentina going and prop Ramiro Herrera bulldozed down the left and set up Tuculet for the first try. The second try was even better, Cordero ripping through Tonga’s midfield before offloading to give Inhoff.
The flyhalves swapped penalties after the restart before Morath missed relatively routine penalty attempts from the right and the left.
“We missed five kicks today and our team is one that strives on confidence,” Tonga captain Nili Latu said. “We let ourselves down with our ball control and discipline.”