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Argentina maul Spain in battle of the big cats

By Ian Cameron
Spain's lock Lucas Guillaume (L) tackles Argentina's wing Rodrigo Isgro (C) during the pre-World Cup international friendly rugby union match between Spain and Argentina at the Metropolitan stadium in Madrid on August 26, 2023. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP) (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Los Pumas flexed their South American muscle to make light work of Spain in their Rugby World Cup warm-up match at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.

The crowd might not have quite matched the average Athletico Madrid home attendance, but roughly 20,000 of the Los Leones faithful turned out for a fixture that had little meaning for a side that had forfeited their place at this year's Rugby World Cup.

The home side were disqualified for their second World Cup in a row last November, so a home fixture against their Latin cousins just weeks out from a tournament they would have otherwise been at may well have been bittersweet.

By the same token, Michael Cheika's Pumas went out wanting to stretch their legs in what is effectively their only Rugby World Cup warm-up match, barring their turn in this year's truncated Rugby Championship.

Argentina struck first through a Nicolas Sanchez penalty, which was followed a few minutes later by a crossfield kick that found fullback Juan Cruz Mallia, who scored Los Puma's first try with just 13 minutes on the clock.

Giant loosehead Joel Sclavi was next up with a 5-pointer, barging his way over in the 17th minute following some sustained pressure from Los Pumas.

The visitors didn't take long to strike again, with Newcastle Falcons' flyer Mateo Carreras dancing his way through Spain's edge defence with just 22 minutes on the clock. Another Sanchez conversion took the score to 24-0.

Spain fought back, nearly claiming a try from their own crossfield kick in the 31st minute. Winger Martiniano Cian was seemingly tackled as he caught the ball, with the incident duly referred to TMO, only for the intervention to be ruled legal. Not to be dissuaded, Spain's Gonzalo Vinuesa kicked a penalty a few minutes later to avoid the ignominy of a potential whitewash on home soil.

Spanish joy was shortlived however, with Los Pumas scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli punishing the home side, diving over from close range following an Argentinian catch and drive. It was converted by Sanchez, which stretched the lead to 31-3. It was the last score of the half.

A sweeping Argentine attack nearly put Rodrigo Isgro away in the right corner, only for a last-ditch tackle to snuff out the move.

The game got a little scrappy after that, with a less-than-clinical Los Pumas failing to convert nearly 15 minutes of possession in the Spanish 22 into points. They managed to break the deadlock in the 54th minute, with a try for burly back row Marcos Kremer off a catch and drive. Sanchez's conversion pushed the score out to 38-3.

An on-song Jeronimo de la Fuente was next to score, the replacement barging his way over impressively in the 64th minute, before being joined on the scoreboard in the 68th minute by Martin Bogado.

Not to be outdone, the forwards struck next, with Facundo Isa crossing the whitewash off an unstoppable maul close to the Spanish line.

Bogado put the cherry on top for Los Pumas following a midfield break up the middle of the park, to leave the final score 62-3.