Rugby World Cup 1999
Argentina secure play-off berth
October 16, 1999
Gonxalo Quesada kept Japan pinned back with his metronomic kicking
© Getty Images
Argentina got beyond the preliminary stage for the first time in the World Cup with a 33-12 victory over Japan who head home having failed to get the victory the nation was praying for. In a game that went according to prematch predictions the Argentine pack proved far too strong for the Japanese, forcing them into conceding penalty after penalty which Gonzalo Quesada was only too happy to put over. Seven penalties from the not so speedy fly half ensured that Argentina go through to play Ireland in the quarter final play offs, while Samoa go through to play Scotland and Wales qualify as winners of group D.
Indeed it seemed that Argentina had decided from the off that the 48 points they needed to finish second were beyond them, let alone the 69 they needed to finish first, and their main priority was simply to win. This they achieved through the boot of Queseda. The Argentine front row proved far too strong for the Japanese, who ended up replacing their entire front row, and any ball the Japanese won was too slow for them to fully use their fleet-footed backs. Valiantly as Patilai Tuidraki and Daisuke Ohata ran, they simply ran out of support, and more often than not possession ended up going to the Argentinians.
Argentina's game is based on forward dominance and in Agustin Pichot they have the ideal tactician and play maker playing behind them. The scrum half scored a superb solo try in the 28th minute to put Argentina 11- 3 ahead following a brace of penalties from Queseda and one from Keiji Hirose for Japan. Two further penalties apiece from the two fly halves saw the teams go into the half time break at 17-9.
The second half saw the Japanese trying to play catch-up rugby, but their efforts were all in vain as all too often the final pass failed to go to hand or possession was lost in the tackle. Queseda added a further 3 penalties to take his tally to 7 out of 9 attempts before he was replaced in order to save him for the play off against Ireland, whilst Hirose added one more for the 'Cherry and Whites'.
A dubious late try from Diego Albanese, who along with Pichot was the only Argentine back to realy trouble the Japanese defence, sealed victory for the 'Pumas' in the last moments of the game and sent the South Americans into the next stages at the expense of Canada.
For Japan the tournament is over but at least they can return home in better shape than they did four years ago. However, bearing in mind the expectations of the team following their performance in the Epson Cup, certain questions have to be asked to be asked of Seiji Hirao and some of his selection decisions. For a man who showed so much vision as a player Hirao seems to have adopted traditional Japanese tunnel vision regarding certain selection decisions. The view in Japan is that there were too many players playing one tournament too many and that Hirao should have used this final game to try out some new blood. All too often the Japanese seemed to waste the good ball they had won with aimless kicking or over-complicated moves in midfield rather than playing to their strengths, namely Tuidraki and Ohata.
The horrors of Blomfontein are certainly behind them, but the warm up game against Waikato and the subsequent games in Pool D showed that they still have some way to go before they can truly compete with the big boys of world rugby.