Scotland’s World Cup dreams came to an end tonight in Paris as they went down to match favourites Argentina by 19-13 in an engrossing quarter-final.
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 kicked by Dan Parks and Chris Paterson, who maintained his 100% record for the tournament.
Scotland coach Frank Hadden paid tribute to tonight’s opposition as he offered his congratulations. He said: “They played a good game today and had a stranglehold for three-quarters of the match. Some of our decision making lacked a bit of maturity while they were streetwise and sharp so it was hard to get going in the first half and the seven to two penalty count made it impossible.
“They tired in the second half because of the energy they put in at the breakdown, and we got into a bit of a rhythm. We nearly capitalised on that, and had the match gone on for another five or ten minutes we had a chance of winning. We were not clinical enough at the end to take us and our fans in the semi-finals as we so wanted."
The coach, however, took heart from what his side produced throughout the tournament. He added: “I’m very confident our young side will learn from it. Some of them have matured a hell of a lot in a short time, and come the next two or three Six Nations (tournaments), we’ll be a threat and a side to be reckoned with."
Captain Jason White expressed the mood of the players, saying: “Everyone is very disappointed. We knew we had a chance to win the game. Argentina were in front and we made too many errors in the first half to play smart rugby."
Argentina showed their ambition from the outset, first when Juan Martin Hernandez attempted a drop goal just 16 seconds into the match after Scotland’s Jim Hamilton had not latched on to the kick-off. Fortunately, the Pumas stand-off failed to find the target. They then made an early threat on the try line 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 landed 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 in the shape of Nathan Hines (though it appeared the big fellow was hard done by here). Contepomi then stepped up to the mark 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 Gonzalo Longo 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 the eager Longo. It was a doubly frustrating moment as Scotland had in fact won the ball from a turnover brilliantly secured by Allister Hogg. Contepomi’s 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 try line, 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 - very sloppy work from Mike Blair’s hoist and his forwards continuing to advance - 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. 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, off-loading athletically under fierce pressure, to Cusiter who nipped in at 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.
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 breenged for the line, but when ball came out, Parks’ cross-field chip was just too far for Sean Lamont to catch and it drifted into touch in goal.
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 and a meeting with South Africa.
The whole squad were naturally disappointed after the match. Prop Craig Smith, who made an impact off the bench, said: “It’s heartbreaking. It just comes down to the bounce of the ball. They charged us down, they scored. We charged them down, but didn’t quite get the same result. It’s that close.
“We threw everything at them but we couldn’t find a way through. It was just like Italy last week, except we were on the other side of the coin. The guys ran themselves to a standstill but it wasn’t to be. We’ve learnt a lot and hopefully we’ll be galvanised for the Six Nations which is not far away.”
Flanker Allister Hogg said: “We were pleased to get to the quarter final but what is most frustrating is that we had a massive opportunity to go to the semis and once you’re there, anyone can go forward. We were not as clinical as we should have been or grabbed the opportunities we had and at this level you have to.”
The Scots return home tomorrow, and although they did not reach the semi-final stages, one player achieved a landmark tonight. Chris Paterson’s two successful penalty kicks gave him a perfect record of 17 out of 17 during the World Cup. He said: “It was a goal of mine before the tournament began although I wasn’t going to let on. I said that before the last World Cup and I missed the first kick against Japan!
“I thought we were going to do it at the end of the match and I was desperate to step up and kick the winning goal, but it never came.
“The perfect record is not something I’m going to should about, as you have important kicks to take weekend after weekend and no doubt there will be an important kick coming up in the Six Nations."
The key thing for Scotland now is to build on what they did achieve in this World Cup - and the first chance to do so will be when France - surely now the tournament favourites - come calling to Murrayfield in the RBS 6Nations Championship opener in early February.
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)
Man of the match: Gonazlo Longo Elia