Scotland’s World Cup dreams came to an end tonight in Paris as they went down to match favourites Argentina by 19-13.
The Scots battled to the final whistle and despite repeated attempts to steal the victory in the last minutes of the game, they were unable to add to Chris Cusiter’s try and the points which Chris Paterson and Dan Parks kicked.
Argentina showed their ambition from the outset, firstly when Juan Martin Hernandez attempted a drop goal just 16 seconds into the match, but failed to find the target. They then made an early threat on the tryline as Hernandez sent a high ball cross field to Felipe Contepomi and the centre chased but he was pulled down by the Scots defence.
Scotland also looked sharp in attack as first Sean Lamont spun out of Argentinian hands to pass the ball to Simon Webster who kicked downfield. When the ball was then kicked back by Hernandez, Mike Blair passed to Chris Paterson who set off down the wing but the referee pulled them back for a forward pass.
Argentina were awarded the first penalty within kicking distance of the posts after Scotland were pulled up for obstructing in the lineout, but Felipe Contepomi was wide of the mark.
Just two minutes later, however, it was the Scots who put points on the scoreboard when Dan Parks successfully kicked a 50 metre penalty giving them a 3-0 lead after 16 minutes.
The score soon evened out when Felipe Contepomi was then on target when Scotland were penalised for a dangerous tackle, as he was with a further opportunity just four minutes later, putting his side into a three-point lead after half an hour.
They increased their lead again through the first try of the night. Dan Parks’ clearance kick was charged down by Felipe Contepomi who chipped it forward. Ross Ford and Sean Lamont ran back to save the day, but the ball bounced awkwardly and into the hands of Gonzalo Longo Elia. The conversion put them ten points clear.
Scotland however, pulled back three points as Chris Paterson took his first penalty kick of the night.
Before the end of the half, Argentina were awarded a scrum just ten metres short of the tryline, and given their pack’s reputation in that aspect of the game, Scotland did well to win the ball and were then awarded a penalty as the Argentinians had broken their binding. However, it was too close to the end of the first forty minutes of play to make anything of it and the Scots trailed 13-6 going into the break.
Scotland were penalised for offside early in the second half giving Argentina a platform from a lineout in the 22 metre zone. A further penalty for pulling down the subsequent maul gave Felipe Contepomi an easy kicking chance and he increased his team’s lead just two minutes in.
Despite the points piling up against them, the Scots showed composure in attack putting together some good phases of play as first Simon Taylor took the ball forward from a scrum. Mike Blair spun the ball out quickly at each recycle and Sean Lamont pushed several defenders out of the way to make some metres. Their pressure paid off as Argentina were penalised for not rolling away, but the 50 metre kick this time proved too far for Parks.
His opposite number however, was having a good night with the boot and a huge kick from him put his team deep into Scotland’s 22 metre area. From the lineout, the Scots cleared the ball, but still within the danger zone, giving Argentina a chance to add some points. Which they did, as the ball was fed out from their lineout to Hernandez who was in a perfect position to drop a goal, making it 19-6.
Scotland rang the changes as Craig Smith, Scott MacLeod, Kelly Brown and Chris Cusiter came on, Andrew Henderson having already replaced Rob Dewey at half time. With 20 minutes left and 13 points adrift, the Scots then showed some flair, guts and urgency.
A fantastic period of play, with a great initial burst by Smith, saw the Scots push on through Paterson, Ross Ford and Sean Lamont up the right wing. The ball moved back across to the left and although it was slightly in the air for a while, Simon Webster and Hines brought it back under control and Brown set off, passing to Cusiter who nipped in the corner for a well constructed try.
The conversion he left for Paterson, however, was not so easy, but the left wing kept his perfect World Cup kicking record intact - although the ball needed a deflection off the left post to go through.
Hernandez tried to open up the gap between the sides with a drop goal almost immediately, but his attempt went right of the posts.
Hugo Southwell and Scott Lawson then came onto the field of play, and the Scots were then awarded a free kick as Argentina were pulled up in the scrum. However, possession quickly changed hands again but Scotland’s pressure in defence forced a further turnover of possession.
With only six points separating the teams, the last ten minutes was frenetic. Two great periods of Scottish attacking earned them two penalties, both of which Parks hoofed downfield. The first went awry, but the second lineout, just five metres short of the line went cleanly to Taylor. The forwards pushed and pushed for the line, but when ball came out, Parks’ cross-field chip was just too far for Sean Lamont to catch and it drifted out of touch.
Despite the passion and pace of the final minutes, Scotland were unable to find the try line. As they were awarded a final scrum with only seconds left on the clock, the ball went forward and their World Cup dreams disappeared, while Argentina’s 19-13 victory saw them progress to the semi-finals.
Rory Lamont (Sale Sharks); Sean Lamont (Northampton Saints), Simon Webster (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Ulster), Chris Paterson (Gloucester); Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Mike Blair (Edinburgh); Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Glasgow Warriors), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Jim Hamilton (Leicester Tigers), Jason White (Sale Sharks) CAPTAIN, Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh)
Substitutes: Scott Lawson (Sale Sharks) for Ford 72 mins, Craig Smith (Edinburgh) for Kerr 57 mins, Scott MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets) for Hamilton 57 mins, Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for Hogg 57 mins, Chris Cusiter (Perpignan) for Blair 57 mins, Andrew Henderson (Glasgow Warriors) for Dewey H-T, Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh) for R Lamont 72 mins
Scorers: Try: Cusiter. Con: Paterson Pen: Parks, Paterson
Ignacio Corleto, Lucas Borges, Manuel Contepomi, Felipe Contepomi, Horacio Agulla, Juan Martin Hernadez, Agustin Pichot (CAPTAIN), Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma Arocena, Juan Martin Scelzo, Carlos Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Patricio Albacete, Lucas Ostiglia, Gonzalo Longo Elia, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
Scorers: Try: Longo Elia. Con: F Contepomi. Pen: Contepomi 3. DG: Hernandez
Referee: Joel Jutge (France)