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SPORTS | 26-09-2019 12:29

Pumas have to deliver against Tonga in must-win game

Fly-half Benjamín Urdapilleta handed his first Test start in six years as Argentina make four changes for their Rugby World Cup game against Tonga on Saturday.

Argentina have carried out the self-criticism following an agonising opening defeat, and now the Pumas have to deliver against Tonga in their must-win Rugby World Cup match on Saturday.

Coach Mario Ledesma made a big statement by dropping fly-half Nicolás Sánchez and hooker Agustín Creevy after the tense 23-21 loss to France. The Pumas trailed 20-3 at the break, led 21-20, conceded a dropped goal, and missed a last-gasp penalty after switching kickers.

"We are still hurting after France, but it's in the past. The World Cup isn't over yet, and there are still three games ahead of us," centre Jerónimo De La Fuente says. "We reminded ourselves that you will always be left behind if you stop believing. We are fully confident that we will show up against Tonga."

The players had better, because Argentina still have 2003 champion England to come.

Ledesma has handed Benjamín Urdapilleta his first start since June 2013 in place of Sánchez, whose kicking was off last weekend, and chosen Julián Montoya — a try-scorer against the French — instead of Creevy, the former captain. 

Urdapilleta scored two penalties after coming on as a replacement in the 23-21 loss in Tokyo. Left wing Santiago Carreras will make his first Test start.

Tonga also have to win after losing their opener to England 35-3 so Tomás Lezana — selected at No. 8 in one of four Pumas changes — knows what to expect.

"It will be a crunch, without a question," Lezana says. "Tonga is a very physical team and we should keep to our set-pieces and redouble our efforts on defense as well as in the contact area."

There was no place in the 23 for Juan Manuel Leguizamón, who is just one Test appearance away from equalling Felipe Contepomi's Argentina record of 87. 

Outlook for opponents

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu must cope with Argentina's expected backlash without his most influential player.

Fly-half Kurt Morath might need throat surgery after trying to tackle England's imposing Manu Tuilagi, while center Nafi Tuitavake is also sidelined after breaking his arm in that game.

"We are gutted for them, they are two of our better players," assistant coach Richard Watt says. "Kurt worked so hard to make it after coming out of international retirement and Nafi was only just back from injury."

The 34-year-old Morath is Tonga's all-time leading scorer at the World Cup with 73 points, and Tonga's all-time with 340 test points. He will be especially missed. He was impressive when the sides met at the World Cup four years ago, putting Tonga in the driving seat with an early try before the side wilted in a 45-16 loss.

Morath is replaced by the younger and bigger James Faiva, whose five caps have all come in the last two months.

Tonga's task is made harder by the fact it has had one day less than the Pumas to prepare for the game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium, on the outskirts of highly popular tourist destination Osaka.

"We've got to make sure our bodies and minds are fresh," Watt says. "It is a pretty quick turnaround for us and Argentina pose a similar physical challenge to England."

Back foot

The Pumas are on the back foot in a tough-looking Pool C, but Watt expects them to be ready to handle the big-match pressure, simply because many of them are used to playing successfully for the Jaguares in Super Rugby and made the final this year for the first time.

Defeat to Tonga on Saturday would almost certainly end Argentina's hopes of reaching the knockout stages, and make it 11 defeats in a row.

Watt is not reading too much into that run of losses, however.

"They have lost some games in the Rugby Championship, they were pretty close losses," he said. "They could have beaten the All Blacks."

Tonga's match against England wasn't close, but there were some signs of improvement in the wake of a humiliating 92-7 reverse to New Zealand in a pre-tournament warm-up.

"It was a better performance," flanker Sione Kalamafoni says. "But we didn't come here to be satisfied with just a better performance. We are here to complete the task of competing on a world stage."

Kalamafoni wants more audacity from Tonga's attack.

"When we got into the England 22 we didn't throw a punch," he says. "We're hoping to fix those little mistakes."

___

Line-ups:

Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Matías Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jerónimo De La Fuente, Santiago Carreras, Benjamín Urdapilleta, Tomás Cubelli; Tomás Lezana, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomás Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Julián Montoya, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

Reserves: Agustín Creevy, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matías Alemanno, Javier Ortega Desio, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolás Sánchez, Bautista Delguy.

Tonga: Telusa Veainu, Viliami Lolohea, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (captain), David Halaifonua, James Faiva, Sonatane Takulua; Maama Vaipulu, Zane Kapeli, Sione Kalamafoni, Halaleva Fifita, Sam Lousi, Ben Tameifuna, Paul Ngauamo, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi.

Reserves: Sosefo Sakalia, Vunipola Fifita, Ma'afu Fia, Sitiveni Mafi, Nasi Manu, Leon Fukofuka , Latiume Fosita, Cooper Vuna.

Kick-off:

Saturday, 1.45am Buenos Aires time.

 

– TIMES/AFP/AP

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