A sensational first-half display helped Argentina to a win over Tonga at the Leicester City Stadium.
The large crowd in the east Midlands were treated to a stunning example of running rugby in the opening 40 minutes of this key Pool C encounter. Both Tonga and Argentina scored wonderful tries, but it was a flurry of 14 points in three minutes from the Pumas that truly lit up the game.
Juan Imhoff scored the first, before Joaquin Tuculet finished off the move of the tournament straight from the restart to give Argentina a lead that they never relinquished.
The pin-point boot of Federico Nicolas Sanchez kept Tonga at bay in the second half and, as the Pacific Islanders tired, the Pumas racked up an impressive points haul with a string of tries late on.
Argentina's Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Tomas Lavanini with Tonga's Steve Mafi in action
Image credit: Reuters
Fly-half Sanchez essentially finished the game as a contest with his score on 64 minutes, before Julian Montoya and Santiago Cordero crossed the whitewash to add a gloss to the scoreline. It was harsh on Tonga but highlighted the ruthless nature of a Pumas side who nobody will want to face in the knockout stages.
7’ – Argentina 0-5 Tonga – TRY! Tonga's pressure finally tells as they keep getting quick ball and create a mismatch for Kurt Morath to squirm over for the opening score. Conversion missed.
18’ – Argentina 3-5 Tonga – Sanchez slots the three-pointer and Argentina are on the board.
19’ – Argentina 10-5 Tonga – TRY! Argentina have woken up in a big way. Tuculet finishes off a flowing move that tore the Tongan defence to pieces. Sanchez converts.
22’ – Argentina 17-5 Tonga – TRY! Wow! Straight from the kick-off Argentina's Cordero runs it out of his own 22 and scythes open the Tonga defence. He offloads well out of the tackle and Imhoff finishes off probably the try of the tournament. Sanchez makes the conversion.
Argentina's Martin Landajo in action with Tonga's Fetu'u Vainikolo
Image credit: Reuters
27’ – Argentina 20-5 Tonga – Sanchez slots the penalty and Argentina's lead is up to 15 points. Tonga haven't played badly, but the Pumas have been incredible in this first half.
33’ – Argentina 20-8 Tonga – Morath slots a penalty.
38’ – Argentina 20-13 Tonga – TRY! Tonga'uiha claims a brilliant Veainu pass out of the tackle right on the touchline to cross for a sensational Tongan try. That was brilliant from the winger and the prop was up in support to take advantage of the wonderful piece of handling from his wide man. Morath misses the conversion.
42’ – Argentina 20-16 Tonga – Morath pulls Tonga right back into it with a penalty at the start of the second half. The difference is now just four points. 20-16.
44’ – Argentina 23-16 Tonga – Sanchez slots a three-pointer of his own. The fly-half is clinical from the tee and was never going to miss that one. The lead is back up to seven points.
53’ – Argentina 26-16 Tonga – The penalty count is racking up, but it's Sanchez who is proving the difference with his accuracy off the tee. The fly-half slots another long-ranger to extend Argentina's lead.
64’ – Argentina 31-16 Tonga – Try! Extended Argentina pressure finally tells and Sanchez dummies a pass to create a hole in the defensive line and cross for what could well be the game-winning score. Sanchez misses the conversion.
Argentina's Matias Moroni at the end of the game
Image credit: Reuters
72’ – Argentina 36-16 Tonga – TRY! Argentina stay camped in the corner and Montoya keeps himself marginally in-field to touch down right by the corner flag. That's game over. Sanchez is back on form with the boot and slots the conversion.
80’ – Argentina 43-16 Tonga – TRY! Tonga are out on their feet and Argentina take full advantage, putting Cordero into space to finish under the posts. Sanchez converts to put a cherry on top of this impressive Argentina display.
Are Argentina good enough to win the World Cup? This was a ruthless display from an Argentina side who are no longer just reliant on their pack to compete against the big boys of world rugby. This win over Tonga displayed the Pumas attacking verve at its finest, which combined with their power up-front and well-organised defence will make them a tough opponent for whoever they face in the last eight. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Argentina in the semis on this evidence.
Argentina: Tuculet; Cordero, Moroni, de la Fuente, Imhoff; Sanchez, Landajo; Ayerza, Creevy, Herrera, Petti Pagadizabal, Lavanini, Matera, Fernandez Lobbe, Senatore. Replacements: Gonzalez Iglesias, Agulla, Cubelli, Noguera, Montoya, Orlandi, Alemanno, Isa.
Tonga: Lilo; Veainu, Piutau, Piukala, Vainikolo; Morath, Takulua; Tonga'uiha, Taione, Aulika, Lokotui, Tu'ineau, Kalamafoni, Latu, Ma'afu. Replacements: Halaifonua, Fosita, Taumalolo, Lutui, Puafisi, Mafi, Fonua.