Heartbreak for Wales as Argentina surge into World Cup semi-finals
Wales crashed out of the Rugby World Cup after Emiliano Boffelli inspired an Argentina fightback that saw them win a thrilling spectacle 29-17 at Stade Velodrome.
Warren Gatland’s team had high hopes of reaching a third World Cup semi-final in the last four tournaments, but Argentina ripped up the form book after struggling to qualify from their pool.
Wales led 10-0 through a Dan Biggar try, conversion and penalty, only for Boffelli to wipe out that deficit with four penalties during a damaging spell either side of half-time.
Scrum-half Tomos Williams’ try, again converted by Biggar, put Wales back in front, but Pumas prop Joel Sclavi touched down and replacement fly-half Nicolas Sanchez claimed an interception try during the closing seconds. Boffelli converted both and then Sanchez booted a last-minute penalty.
It all rubbed salt into a gaping Welsh wound, although the Pumas were fortunate to see lock Guido Petti avoid sanction for a shoulder-led hit on Wales centre Nick Tompkins 16 minutes from time.
Referee Karl Dickson, who had taken over from an injured Jaco Peyper early on, awarded no card following television match official consultation, and Wales’ players looked perplexed.
Wales’ defeat meant the end of Biggar’s international career, having announced in August that he would retire from the Test arena post-World Cup.
Argentina had struggled to qualify from their group, but they made a bright start in perfect conditions by stretching Wales’ defence.
Boffelli, though, missed a 30-metre penalty chance and Wales responded through some fluency of their own and a determination to free prolific try-scorer Louis Rees-Zammit in space.
Wales then broke the deadlock after 14 minutes when centre George North – playing in a Welsh record fourth World Cup quarter-final – made initial headway before Biggar crossed between the posts and converted his own try.
Peyper then left the action, appearing to suffer a calf muscle injury, with Englishman Dickson taking the whistle.
There were also problems with Wales’ shirts, as several players saw numbers peel off the back, before Biggar restored a degree of calm with a long-range penalty that made it 10-0.
Anxiety had rippled through Welsh ranks when Biggar went down clutching his chest after tackling Santiago Chocobares, but he quickly resumed following treatment.
Wales’ problem area was the lineout, losing two on their own throw inside the opening 25 minutes, but Argentina could not take advantage with the Pumas making little headway following an impressive start.
Biggar then missed a penalty, but Boffelli was more accurate with successive kicks as the first half ended with Argentina on the attack and growing in confidence until an overtime brawl broke out with the Pumas just 10-6 behind.
Prior to Boffelli’s second successful strike, Wales wing Josh Adams was fortunate to avoid a yellow card for pushing over an Argentina player off the ball, and a half-time substitution saw hooker Dewi Lake replace Ryan Elias.
Argentina retained the initiative, and Boffelli completed a quickfire penalty hat-trick that send further warning signals to a Wales team that had temporarily lost its way.
But there was no stopping Boffelli as he then kicked a penalty from two metres inside his own half as Wales fell behind for the first time.
Williams made an instant impact after going on for Gareth Davies, splitting open Argentina’s defence on a weaving 25-metre run to the line, and Biggar’s conversion put Wales back in front, holding a five-point lead approaching the hour mark.
After Petti’s let-off, Sclavi pounced following sustained pressure before Boffelli’s conversion put Argentina back in front and Wales were once again in trouble.
But Gatland’s team threw everything at Argentina during the closing stages, with Rees-Zammit going desperately close to a try in the corner.
It was a breathless and frenzied finale – a suitable end to a memorable contest – before Sanchez intercepted Sam Costelow’s pass, Boffelli converted, Sanchez landed a penalty and Wales were out.
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