It was a case of beauty taming the beast as Argentina saw off a defiant France 25-6 in the semi-finals of the World Rugby Classic at North Field last night.
It proved to be a battle between two different brands of rugby, with France going against tradition by adopting a spoiling style of play that had its desired effect, at least in the first half.
Champagne rugby it was not; some of the crowd booed France’s win-at-all costs mentality and decision to kick all of their penalty goals.
Argentina led 8-6 after a drab first period, Alejandro Galli opening the scoring before France pegged them back via the boot of Anthony Lagardère.
Both teams then traded penalties with Lagardère giving France the lead, although Argentina ensured they went into the interval with their noses in front when Federico Serra found his range.
After the break Argentina started to take control, with Federico Castilla scoring his side’s second try and Serra kicking the conversion to make it 15-6.
The Classic Pumas added another penalty from the boot of Serra before a try from Santiago Gómez wrapped up the win.
Argentina, in pursuit of their first title since 2011, will now meet the Classic All Blacks or Italy in the final on Saturday.
Rodolfo Ventura, the Classic Pumas manager, said France’s defensive approach had made it difficult for Argentina to play the free-flowing rugby they so desired.
“The other day I said that we had prepared to play both wide and inside — well, today we had to play a little more inside than we intended. France defended very well and made it difficult for us to open up.”
Ventura, however, also suspects that those very defensive tactics meant Les Bleus sacrificed their traditional attacking panache.
“When we play against France it’s a Latin game and that plays on the nerves and mind a lot,” said Ventura, who won 14 caps for his country. “It took us 30 minutes to get ourselves on track and in the second half things quietened down a bit.
“They knew we would look to play wide and planned their game to make it tight.
“Maybe they lost their natural play just in order to try and make us make a mistake.”
Classic Lions bounced back from their opening-day defeat by France by beating Canada 31-5 in the first game of the night, the Plate semi-final.
Richard Carter scored two tries in the Lions’ win, with Sean Lamont, Adam Jones and David Corkery also getting on the scoresheet.
Derek Townsend was Canada’s tryscorer, crashing over the line in the first half to make it 10-5.
Allan Martin, the Lions coach, believed the scoreline slightly flattered his side, who will now play the winner of tonight’s semi-final between USA Classic Eagles and Classic Springboks.
“It was a tough game until the last five minutes when we sort of got away,” the former Wales lock said.
“We’re not being allowed to play and the tackling is keen. The standard is getting higher all of the time and I take my hat off to these lads.”
Martin also called on the remaining teams in action to be more gung-ho in an effort to entertain the spectators.
“It’s very tight and nobody is running away with it, and that’s the way we want it to be,” Martin said.
“But I would like to see a little more all-round open play. We have an obligation to entertain as well.
“A facet of the game now is tight play, stick it up your jumper and make the yard, but that’s not entertaining for the crowd, especially a crowd that has come to see open rugby.
“That’s the only way [the Classic] will continue to flourish.
“Nobody wants to see dour rugby.”