Pumas beat US 47-17 for consolation win

KUMAGAYA, Japan (AP) — Argentina reaffirmed itself as the top team in the Americas when it completed its Rugby World Cup campaign by beating the United States 47-17 on Wednesday.

The first team to finish its pool matches, the Pumas fell short of a fourth consecutive quarterfinal berth but will head home with a consolation of automatic qualification for the 2023 tournament by finishing third in Pool A.

They hadn't met the United States in 16 years, when the Pumas won 42-8 in Buenos Aires, and eclipsed that record scoring seven tries to three. Both packs cancelled each other out in Kumagaya, but the Pumas backs were too slick, especially centers Jeronimo de la Fuente and Juan Cruz Mallia, who was making his World Cup debut.

On a perfect stage — sunny, warm conditions in a stadium filled out with cheering, flag-waving kids from local schools — both teams seemed to agree the day was too good to waste and decided to entertain. There were few set-pieces and turnovers were simply resets to run the ball at each other over and over. It made for helter-skelter fun.

Argentina showed its positive intent early by waiving two kickable penalties to go for tries. The first attempt was disallowed for a knock-on against the U.S. posts, and the second was cleared by the Americans.

But Mallia showed his threat in a counterattack from Argentina's 22, breaking up the middle only to see wing Santiago Carreras knock-on under presure.

No matter. The Americans' weakness in defense, away from the forwards, was exposed.

Moments later, Mallia broke again through the middle and sent flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez sliding into the right corner.

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Sanchez, the team's test points record-holder restored as a starter after a two-game demotion, repaid the effort with a chip to the U.S. tryline that bounced kindly for fullback Joaquin Tuculet, making his first appearance in the tournament.

Tuculet bagged a pair shrugging off a neck-high tackle out wide after the forwards couldn't pound the ball in.

Down 19-0 closing on halftime, the Americans stayed upbeat and an AJ MacGinty grubber was scooped up by right wing and captain Blaine Scully to score.

MacGinty's conversion attempt came off the post. The Eagles were contributing to the action but the backs were being outclassed.

The Pumas opened the second half with some amazing moves from right win Bautista Delguy. He had to run back to collect a dropped pass meters out from his line, ran behind the tryline then straightened up between the posts and was clear. He slipped a fourth tackle before running out of energy and kicking ahead to set up a lineout. From that, Mallia scored his first try, and a second try four minutes later from a quick lineout by de la Fuente.

When Mallia gave left wing Santiago Carreras an overlap, and de la Fuente was inside him to score by the posts, the Americans appeared to be falling apart.

But they surprisingly countered with two of the last three tries, to center Paul Lasike and Scully again.

In between, replacement scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou, who arrived only this week after a tournament-ending injury to Tomas Cubelli last Saturday against England, dotted down from a break by the star of the match, Mallia.

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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