Argentina aim to beat England and win Pool B

Argentina will be under pressure at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand to repeat the heroics of their 2007 Rugby World Cup performance when they kick off their world cup campaign.

Argentina finished in third place in the last Rugby World Cup but start their task in 2011 against England who are ranked four places higher than them in the IRB rankings.

The Pumas will however be looking to start their campaign with a surprise opening victory as they did in 2007 when they beat hosts France.

Unusually Argentina will not be playing the host country in the tournament’s opening match for the first time since 1999 when they almost upset Wales.

Aside from England Argentina’s other matches in Pool B are against Scotland, Georgia and Romania.

Captain Felipe Contepomi says his team will try to avoid a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal with host New Zealand by beating England and winning the the pool.

He told a news conference in Dunedin, New Zealand on Friday that his team was not yet looking as far ahead as the quarterfinals, but said a good start against England might avoid the possibility of an early knockout match against the All Blacks.

“World Cups are unbelievable in terms of anything can happen,” he said.

“Obviously, for me, the All Blacks are the big favorite in the tournament. Everyone will try to avoid them if they can.”

Expectations are high and, judging from the Pumas’ 28-13 loss to Wales in their final World Cup warmup match, they may be difficult to meet.

“I’m happy with the play of the team,” Pumas coach Santiago Phelan said after the Wales loss.

“It’s a step forward and we are headed in the right direction.”

Phelan has won only six of 19 tests since replacing Marcelo Loffreda as coach in 2008.

He was a top Argentine player and led the Pumas to a famous victory over Ireland at the 1999 World Cup, but this will be his first big test as a coach.

In a bold headline, Buenos Aires newspaper La Nacion described Argentina heading to New Zealand as “A Worrying Reality.”

Argentina will be led by veteran players like Mario Ledesma and Rodrigo Roncero in the front row, Stade Toulousain lock Patricio Albacete, and Contepomi. The one big absence is fullback Juan Martin Hernandez, who was left off the World Cup squad with a knee injury.

“We have to improve quickly because the World Cup is just around the corner,” Contepomi said before the team’s departure for New Zealand.

“We have to reach our potential by Sept. 10.”

Both Phelan and flyhalf Contepomi said the game plan against Wales was right, but the execution broke down because of individual errors.

“We wanted to keep possession longer and dominate,” Phelan said.

“Our mistakes on tries might have been caused by a lack of concentration or being tired. But the other team has something to do with it, too.”

Contepomi said one of the strengths of Argentina will be its “physical play.”

“We responded against Wales – which is a very physical team – with our own contact. I don’t think they outdid us in that part of the game.”

Forward Manuel Carizza pointed to Argentina’s lack of test matches to explain its rusty play leading up to the World Cup.

“Wales is a great team, and they have more competition under their belt,” Carizza said.

“We’ve got to fix the mistakes work on details. At this level, you pay dearly for mistakes.”

If Argentina finishes second in Pool B, it will face the winner of Pool A in the quarterfinals – likely to be favorite New Zealand.

If Argentina manages to win the pool, it will likely meet a slightly less daunting opponent in France.

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