Pumas, Scots vie for World Cup quarterfinal
Updated: September 23, 2011, 17:53
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) For Argentina and Scotland, familiarity breeds respect.
The teams will meet on Sunday for the sixth time in four years, this time in a Rugby World Cup match which will likely decide which proceeds to the tournament's knockout rounds.
Scotland has reached the quarterfinals at every World Cup since the tournament was founded 24 years ago and Argentina defied odds to finish third in France in 2007, making Sunday's match a contest of credible Cup contenders.
Argentina beat Scotland in Edinburgh in 2009 and Scotland beat Argentina 2-0 in a test series last year, making Sunday's match one of the hardest to pick in pool play. Even Scotland coach Andy Robinson, when asked to name a favorite, said "I'd say it's 50-50.''
"Both sides are very good sides that have played against each other a lot, so we know each other pretty well,'' Robinson said.
"I have huge respect for the Argentinean players and also Santiago Phelan, the coach, because he's a really nice guy and, to me, he's done a really good job for Argentina. His team has been together for a long time and we know Argentina on a good day could beat anybody in the world.''
Few teams in world rugby place more emphasis than Argentina on the scrum. It is the nucleus of Los Pumas' game, a physical contest which suits the macho ethos which permeates the Argentinean game.
In recent meetings, Argentina and Scotland have fought for control through the scrum and Robinson says the scrum confrontation might be critical in Sunday's game. But he is not prepared to accept the match might be one-dimensional and that Scotland, or Argentina, will depend only on ascendancy at setpieces.
"We really want to play ball in hand. That's something that's the key for us,'' Robinson said.
"It's something we have tried to do. If you watch our game, you'll see that we've done that (in the past) but what's happened over the past couple of years is that our execution hasn't been good enough . . . just having that ruthlessness and execution to finish things off.
"We want to get out and go at Argentina. They are strong around the breakdowns and therefore our ability to move their forward pack around will be important for us.''
Scotland's scrum has been disrupted by the unavailability for this match of tighthead prop Euan Murray, who doesn't play on Sundays because of his religious beliefs.
Murray's place has been taken by Rory Cross but his absence has also forced Robinson to name giant lock Jim Hamilton is his starting XV. Hamilton has been chosen to add weight on the tighthead side, to balance the Scottish scrum. His selection, in turn, has left no place in the Scottish squad for lock and tournament captain Al Kellock, leaving the captaincy in the hands of scrumhalf Rory Lawson.
In fact, the buildup to the match has been a tale of two captains. While Kellock's non-selection was the key feature of Scotland's team selection, the return from injury of captain Felipe Contepomi was the highlight of Argentina's.
Contepomi has played only 25 minutes at the tournament, leaving the field in his team's opening loss to England with a rib injury. He won a race against time to be fit for this match and returns at inside center to steer his team in one of its most important World Cup pool matches.
"It's the most important game because it's the next game - it's one that we have to win and that's it,'' Contepomi said. "If we win on Sunday the next most important game in the next four years would be Georgia (Argentina's final pool opponent).
"At the same time we approach it the same as we approached the last two games in the World Cup, to prepare well, to have a good training week, to try to analyze Scotland and play to our strengths. Anything can happen on match day, but I think the only thing you can control is your preparation.''
Lawson, who is unbeaten in four matches as Scotland's captain, expected Scotland to lift its performance substantially after mediocre efforts against Romania and Georgia. He said it would be an error to expect an entirely forward-focused game from either side.
"We certainly believe that it's a game we can win,'' he said. "We're fully aware that we need to improve our performance from the first game and from the second game and it's going to be a big step up in the challenge. But it's one that we're relishing and one we've looked forward to for a long time.''
Scotland: Chris Patterson, Max Evans, Nick De Luca, Graeme Morrison, Sean Lamont, Ruaridh Jackson, Rory Lawson (captain); Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Ally Strokosch, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Allan Jacobsen. Reserves: Dougie Hall, Alasdair Dickinson, Nathan Hines, Richie Vernon, Mike Blair, Dan Parks, Simon Danielli.
Argentina: Martin Rodgriguez, Gonzalo Comacho, Marcelo Bosch, Felipe Contepomi (captain), Horacio Agulla, Santiago Fernandez, Nicolas Vergallo; Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Julio Farias Cabello, Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Martin Scelzo, Mariano Galarza, Genaro Fessia, Alfredo Lalanne, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Juan Jose Imhoff.