Argentina stymie France in Cup opener

Argentina created one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating host nation France 17-12 at Stade Francais on Friday night. In front of a Saint Denis full house France froze in the headlights and produced a string of errors suggesting that they will not be the force some had expected in the showpiece event.

A splendid kicking display from inside centre Felipe Contepomi and a superb intercept try by fullback Ignacio Corletto gave the Pumas a thoroughly deserved win in the so called ”group of death” that also includes Ireland. The game between France and Ireland now becomes crucial to decide which team progresses to the quarterfinals.

The Pumas used a simple game plan, kicking high to the French defence and forcing errors at the breakdowns. French fullback Cedric Heymans had a nightmare under the bombs launched by Puma flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez.

Argentina lived on the offside line and spoiled whenever they could under the myopic eye of English referee Tony Spreadbury.

Argentina thoroughly deserved their halftime lead, dominating possession, harrying the French into mistakes and punishing the host nation for their indiscretions. Captain and scrumhalf Agustin Pichot marshalled his forwards to great effect and the booming boot of flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez piled pressure on the French back three.

Felipe Contepomi kicked penalties in the fourth, eighth, 23rd and 33rd minutes, but failed with three drop-goal attempts. But the champagne moment for the Pumas came in the 28th minute when fullback Ignacio Corletto scored a wonderful try.

With France on the attack and the Pumas struggling to get back, flank Remy Martin threw a pass that was intercepted on the Argentine 10m line. Slick handling released the flying Corletto who beat the French cover defence to the corner.

French coach Bernard Laporte made tactical changes at halftime, and the French forwards came more into the game as they kept the ball close to the rucks and drove a succession of mauls into the Argentinean 22. The best of these should have produced a try, but committed Puma defence and some lenient refereeing by Spreadbury allowed the moment to pass.

Flyhalf David Skrela kept France in the game in the first half with penalties in the sixth, 30th and 39th minutes as Spreadbury penalised the Pumas at the breakdown.

Skrela kicked his fourth penalty on the hour to reduce the gap to five points, but was replaced by Frederick Michalak in the final quarter. Michalak missed a simple kick in the 71st minute and although Contepomi missed twice in the final five minutes the Pumas held on to celebrate their biggest win in a World Cup.

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