TOKYO (Reuters) - Argentina were left bemoaning a first half no-show in their World Cup opener against France on Saturday that left them with an uphill task to avoid a pool-stage exit for the first time since 2003.
Having reached the semi-finals in 2007 and 2015 and the last eight in 2011, the Pumas are a rising power in world rugby which made their feeble display as they went 20-3 down in the opening 40 minutes at Tokyo Stadium baffling.
They rallied in the second half to take the game down to the wire but with England also in Pool C, the 23-21 defeat left their World Cup campaign in tatters.
Captain Pablo Matera said the defeat left him “bitter” and team mate Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro revealed that there had been no inspirational talks at halftime to spark the turnaround.
“We didn’t start as we had to start,” loosehead prop Tetaz Chaparro said. “There were many things to improve, the things that went wrong, we had to work hard.
“(We discussed) the basics, we were not that team. In the second half we started to do what we train every day.”
Coach Mario Ledesma reserved a large part of his ire for Australian referee Angus Gardner but he was unable to excuse the first-half performance.
“We were not allowed to play our own game or execute our game plan,” he said.
“We gave away opportunities to the opponents and we had opportunities but we were not able to capitalise on those opportunities.”
The defeat extended Argentina’s losing streak to 10 matches but that, like their lowly world ranking of 11th, is not as straightforward a statistic as it might appear.
Six of those defeats have come at the hands of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, one was a loss to Ireland and now two to France.
Last season they beat the Springboks and landed their first victory over the Wallabies on Australian soil.
Nicolas Sanchez, the leading points scorer at the last World Cup, had a poor day against the French and may give way at flyhalf to Benjamin Urdapilleta for the next match against Tonga in Osaka next week.
The Pumas will need to do their best to land a bonus point win by scoring four tries against the Tongans with their clash with England looming on Oct. 5.
Ledesma is a committed process man and said he and his assistants would throw everything into making sure the team’s preparations went well.
“I don’t think the game will decide whether we go to the knockout stage,” he said. “We have analysed and prepared for the first match and we think the result is because of the preparations not being fruitful.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty