Russia were the surprise package of the first round of the World Rugby Nations Cup 2017 with a last-gasp 39-38 win over Argentina XV at the Estadio Charrua in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Saturday.
Spain also defeated Namibia 15-13 and hosts Uruguay beat Emerging Italy 30-21 on a day that saw all six teams play positive rugby with two of the matches decided by less than a score, showcasing the strength of the tournament.
The second round takes places on Wednesday when Namibia will meet Emerging Italy, Argentina XV tackle Spain and Uruguay face Russia in the only match to count towards the World Rugby Rankings.
Spain 15-13 Namibia
Only one place apart in the World Rugby Rankings at 18th and 19th, the higher ranked Spain were deserving winners, despite the small margin, in a tough encounter in the Uruguayan capital.
The first half did not have much to offer, only the exchange of penalties between Bradley Linklater and Theuns Kotze.
All that was missing in the opening 40 minutes was present in the second half as both teams were more positive in their approach. Namibia scored the first try of the tournament in the 49th minute when Chrysander Botha dived on a neat kick by centre Johan Deysel after some excellent play, Kotze adding the conversion.
Spain were quick to reply and from a lineout replacement Lionel Tauli drove the ball to the try-line but Linklater’s conversion bounced off the upright.
Kotze kicked a penalty in the 60th minute but, again, Spain took no time in replying, with Tauli again scoring after quick thinking from flanker Gautier Gibouin Fontana. Linklater managed the conversion this time, which in the end was the two points that separated the teams.
“It was a game that opened and closed constantly. We managed to control our good moments in the second half. It is important to start this tournament with a win, more so looking at the rankings and beating a Rugby World Cup regular,” said Spain captain Jaime Nava.
Spain will remain 18th in the World Rugby Rankings update on Monday at 12:00 UK time but Namibia will slip one place to 20th with Russia the beneficiaries.
Russia 39-38 Argentina XV
Argentina XV were taken by surprise by a Russian team that deservedly won thanks to a combination of power, passion, patience and a dose of good luck as replacement Martín Elías had the chance to win it with a penalty on full-time but missed.
The team coach by former Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi, scored twice within the opening 10 minutes through flanker Francisco Gorrisen and centre Juan Cappielo and then came within centimetres of their third try when winger Denis Simplikevich stole a ball almost on his try-line and ran 94 metres to score a surprise five pointer.
Despite being so early in the game, this was clearly a turning point as the Russians would score two more tries in the opening half, through flanker Yuri Kushnarev and scrum-half Konstantin Uzunov, using the scrum as a weapon. Kushnarev’s kick put his team in front 22-12.
In similar fashion to the first half, Argentina scored with the first couple of minutes, with Cappielo playing a quick penalty and taking the Russian by surprise. The Russians quickly replied with Simplikevich scoring his brace after a superb passage of play by his team to put them 29-19 in front.
Santiago Medrano and Bruno Devoto scored within six minutes, putting Argentina XV in charge just before the hour mark and then prop Facundo Gigena dotted down to put his side seemingly in control at 38-29 with 10 minutes to play.
The scrum, once an Argentine weapon, was crucial for Russia scoring their last two tries – first through winger Alexei Mikalsov and finally, when the scrum went uncontested, Dimitri Krotov scoring in the 78th minute.
“We had to wait until the final kick of the game but we tried to play our structures and even if we gave away possession at times and they turned that into points, we showed character,” said a delighted Russia captain Vasily Artemyev.
Uruguay 30-21 Emerging Italy
The most celebrated win was, of course, Uruguay’s against Emerging Italy in the final match of the day and with both teams scoring three tries, it was the more efficient goal kicking that gave Los Teros the win.
Nippy scrum-half Santiago Arata scored the team’s first try, attacking from a ruck. Fly-half Germán Albanell added the conversion and a penalty, although both half-backs wouold go off injured later in the game.
Emerging Italy took advantage of the first yellow card in the tournament, for prop Matías Benítez, to score their first try through full-back Filippo Buscema on the half hour, and then added a second just before half-time through prop George Iacob to give them a 14-10 lead.
Soon after the restart, centre Juan Manuel Cat ran a great angle to score his team’s second try, putting Uruguay back in front with a lead they would not relinquish.
Emerging Italy replacement David Fragnito was sent off for improper use of the knee in the 59th minute, allowing Los Teros to stretch their advantage to 27-14 thanks to a try from Guillermo Lijtenstein.
The Italians attempted a comeback when number eight Renato Giammarolli scored a try to leave his team another converted try from victory, but Uruguay put the result beyond doubt with a penalty by full-back Rodrigo Silva five minutes from time.
“These are the games we want to play in order to test our strength. It is very good to start with a win, but now we have the key games with ranking points on offer which are very important for us,” said Los Teros captain Juan Manuel Gaminara.
The Nations Cup matches are streamed live on worldrugby.org.
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