Argentina maximised on Mamuka Gorgodze’s second-half sin-binning to record a 54-9 victory over Georgia on Friday to close on the Rugby World Cup quarter finals.
Having been beaten 26-16 by New Zealand in their opening game, the Argentinians had to beat Georgia, surprise 17-10 winners over Tonga, to stay in the race for the knock-out phase.
With two remaining pool games against Tonga and minnows Namibia on October 4 and 11, both in Leicester, Argentina will be out-and-out favourites to progress alongside the All Blacks into the last eight.
Argentina had to work hard in the first-half which ended 14-9 thanks to nine points from the boot of fly-half Nicolas Sanchez and Tomas Lavanini’s solitary try while Georgian veteran Merab Kvirikashvili kicked three penalties.
But when Georgian skipper Gorgodze was sin binned in the 45th minute, the South Americans scored three converted tries through Tomas Cubelli, Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero in just six minutes with some wonderful running rugby.
With Georgia flagging, Martin Landajo first scored, and then Cordero and Bosch grabbed their second tries. Marcelo Bosch hit two conversions as Argentina racked up 40 unanswered points.
“I’m very happy,” said Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade. “It was a great triumph for us, a hard game in the first half, but it only got better in the second-half.
“Obviously they went one player down, the captain at that, and what Mamuka represents for their team, it was very hard for Georgia and we made the most of those minutes.”
Georgia coach Milton Haig said the sin binning of his skipper had been crucial.
“He’s our leader, we’d miss him at any stage,” the New Zealander said.
“We had a bit of a sniff today at half-time, we were in the game, but losing Mamuka for that 10 minutes cost us.
“But that’s rugby. One week we’re winning and we celebrate, and the next week we get beaten badly.”
Sanchez got the scoreboard ticking with a cheeky sixth-minute drop-goal. Georgia then struggled, more pressure was exerted, the ball was moved right and lock Lavanini was on hand to crash over.
A blocking foul on Kvirikashvili by Matias Alemanno saw the Georgian full-back, winning a national record 87th cap in his fourth World Cup, kick the penalty and a second shortly after.
The Pumas almost immediately restored their five-point lead after flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili was called by referee JP Doyle for a high tackle. Sanchez making no mistake with his kick.
Kvirikashvili bagging his third kick however and the ping-pong nature of the match continued after a second high tackle saw Sanchez again punish the Georgians.
Georgia pressed in the runup to half-time.
But the hammerblow arrived five minutes into the second period. Gorgodze was first penalised for a high tackle and then sin binned for preventing quick release as the Pumas pushed.
Lavanini was denied a second try after Doyle ruled he had been held up over the line, but from the resulting scrum, Cubelli darted in for the first of three converted tries, a simple dart down the blindside too much for a stretched 14-man Georgian defence.
From the restart, the ball was whipped left and smart hands saw Racing 92 winger Imhoff in the clear as he outsprinted Kvirikashvili for the line.
With Gorgodze looking on, the Pumas nabbed a bonus point for four tries when Cordero stepped in from his wing and showed a clean pair of heels to scoot in under the posts.
With Sanchez converting all three tries, Argentina went 35-9 up and the game was in the bag for the team that finished third in the 2007 World Cup.
The final 10 minutes saw Landajo driven over before Cordero and Imhoff each grabbed a second try for a comprehensive victory.