Argentina secured a return to the quarter-finals and knocked out Japan from the Rugby World Cup after winger Mateo Carreras’ hat trick of tries inspired a 39-27 win in a breathless pool-stage eliminator in Nantes this morning.
The Pumas will face Wales in the last eight in Marseille on Sunday, having finished second in Pool D behind England.
There were eight tries in total in an end-to-end match and none was more outrageous than the one scored by Japan lock Amato Fakatava, who sprinted down the left wing, collected his own kick forward and trundled over the line midway through the first half.
Yet it was Carreras — Argentina’s stocky and powerful left winger — who proved to be the match winner, finishing off a flowing team move for his first try in the 28th and adding two more after halftime to finally see off a plucky Japan team that kept coming for more.
His third try was the clincher and came just after Japan reduced the gap to 29-27 with 15 minutes left. Within three minutes, Carreras received the ball at almost a standing start, pushed away Japan center Ryoto Nakamura with a right-hand fend, then burst through the middle with stunning acceleration before finishing with a swan dive over the line.
The Argentines missed out on the quarter-finals in 2019 but are back at that stage for the fifth time in the last seven World Cups. However, they look set to be without flanker Pablo Matera, who was helped off in the 23rd minute with a bad right hamstring injury.
“We aren’t the team we want to be,” Carreras said. “We can keep building — we have a lot of things to improve, a lot of things to learn. But we are here.”
Japan was seeking back-to-back quarterfinal appearances after doing so on home soil four years ago but it proved to be the final match under departing coach Jamie Joseph, whose seven years in charge ends after this World Cup.
“This was out Mount Everest,” Japan No. 8 Kazuki Himeno said. “We didn’t get to the summit of the mountain … but the legacy and culture of Japanese rugby will continue.”
Nantes delivered another classic pool-stage elimination match, 16 years after Fiji upset Wales 38-34 at the atmospheric Stade de la Beaujoire.
This one didn’t end up being as close, though Japan was never completely out of it until replacement flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez’s 75th-minute penalty, which opened up a 12-point lead — the biggest of the match.
“I feel like some of our boys, if you look at the crowd here today, so many Argentines who have put their savings together and come for this week, next week, I think they’ve felt a bit of that pressure,” Argentina coach Michael Cheika said.
“Now everyone is happy, the crowd is happy, they’re into it, they’re ripe for the next stage, maybe we can just chill out and go for it, play some good footy and we’ll see where the cards fall.”
The Japanese might ultimately rue a yellow card to flanker Pieter Labuschagne in the 23rd minute for a head-on-head collision with Argentina prop Thomas Gallo. The challenge wasn’t upgraded to a red card by the bunker but Japan shipped 10 points while Labuschagne was in the sin-bin.
The Brave Blossoms also made a sloppy start, conceding a try inside 70 seconds when Santiago Chocobares sliced through a tackle in midfield, sidestepped fullback Lomano Lemeki and flew over for his first try for Argentina.
Fakatava responded with an even better try that will be in competition for the best of the tournament, even if the bounce from his kick forward was fortunate and wrong-footed the covering defender, flyhalf Santiago Carreras, who was then unable to stop the rampaging lock.
The first of Mateo Carreras’ tries came in the 28th and after flanker Marcos Kremer charged down an attempted drop goal with his face. Moments later, fullback Juan Cruz Mallia caught an up-and-under, handed the ball off to Julian Montoya before scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou found Carreras speeding along the left wing to cruise over.
Emiliano Boffelli’s penalty made it 15-7 but back came Japan, for which Naoto Saito scrumhalf crossed on the right wing for a converted try after good work by Dylan Riley and Siosaia Fifita.
Carreras’ second try came in the 46th after 16 phases by Argentina, yet a penalty by Rikiya Matsuda and a drop kick from Lemeki kept Japan just two points back.
Again Argentina pushed ahead, with Boffelli converting his own right-wing try to finish with 14 points for the afternoon.
After a knock-on from the restart, Fiji-born Jone Naikabula scored Japan’s third try only for Carreras to finally see off the Brave Blossoms.
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