Pumas exit World Cup with pride intact
Updated: October 09, 2011, 06:52
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) For an hour the Pumas pressured and pestered New Zealand, competing in a World Cup quarterfinal which nobody gave them a chance of winning.
Then aging legs and a spiraling penalty count cost Argentina as the All Blacks pulled away to win 33-10 with two late tries on Sunday.
The Pumas even led in the first half when flanker Julio Farias Cabello finished a flowing backline move involving center Felipe Contepomi, who fell just short of breaking Hugo Porta's national scoring record.
"We had highs and lows at the World Cup, but overall I'm proud of all the players, young and old,'' Contepomi said.
Indeed, veterans Mario Ledesma and Rodrigo Roncero can hold their heads high after frustrating New Zealand for long spells.
When the weary Ledesma trudged off with 10 minutes remaining at Eden Park, he looked to the sky, his eyes welling up. The 38-year-old hooker knows he's unlikely to step onto the biggest stage again.
"Even if it hurt that we lost, we must remember how well we played today,'' coach Santiago Phelan said. "For Argentine rugby it was important to reach the quarterfinals. I'm very proud of my players.''
His team defended with intensity, inspired by some big hits from Roncero and Contepomi.
The Pumas made some decent early forays into New Zealand's half and missed the first scoring chance of the match when flyhalf Santiago Fernandez's drop goal dipped a fraction under the posts.
Argentina's try was arguably its best of the tournament, with No. 8 Leonardo Senatore carving a gap in New Zealand's midfield and offloading to Contepomi, who flicked the ball deftly on with the back of his hand.
The move flowed from left to right almost like an All Blacks move as Fernandez found fullback Martin Rodriguez and he charged toward the right corner. Fernandez was held up just short of the line, but Cabello found a gap to burrow through.
Contepomi slotted over the conversion to send the pockets of Pumas fans into raptures as they led 7-6 at Eden Park, and taking his international points tally to 588 - just three behind former flyhalf Hugo Porta.
The All Blacks came back to lead but when Marcelo Bosch landed a 50-meter kick from wide out left, the gap was only 12-10 and the Eden Park crowd watched in pensive silence, daring to think the unthinkable: that Argentina could cause a massive upset.
Argentina's midfield held firm as inside center Ma'a Nonu tried to crash through tackles time and again, and when Sonny Bill Williams kept cutting inside during the second half's early exchanges.
But after scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo was sinbinned in the 58th minute, tiredness crept in, discipline went and Argentina conceded two late tries.
Argentina fell short of matching its semifinal appearance of four years ago, but the players showed their sense of unity by performing a huddle after the final whistle and were given deserved applause by the home crowd.
Argentina still has never beaten New Zealand in 14 matches, the closest result being 21-21 in 1985 in Buenos Aires.
The Pumas emerged from a tough pool including England and Scotland, narrowly losing 13-9 to a late English try, and reversing the roles to down Scotland by one point, 13-12.
Those contests took a lot out of Argentina, and Phelan's team looked tired in its final pool match against Georgia last week.
But the players found enough energy to drum up one last effort against the All Blacks - making 135 tackles of 160 tackles, albeit in a losing cause as they tried to take on the All Blacks head on.