Argentina know their Rugby World Cup rests on a must-win game against Tonga in Osaka on Saturday.
Semi-finalists in 2007 and 2015, the Pumas started their Pool C campaign with a heartbreaking 23-21 loss to France.
Argentina were 20-3 behind at the break only to stage a dramatic second-half rally and take a one-point lead, before a drop goal from Camille Lopez condemned them to an agonizing defeat.
England, who’ve beaten both Tonga and the United States in their opening two matches, are expected to top Pool C and take one of the two quarter-final places on offer.
That means Argentina realistically require a bonus-point win over the Pacific islanders this weekend if they are to deprive France of the second qualifying spot.
“What pains us is how well we played in one half and how badly in the other, knowing all the time that we are perfectly capable of playing 80 minutes of high-intensity, intelligent and fast rugby,” said Argentina centre Jeronimo de la Fuente.
“We are fully aware of how important the clash with France was, and it hurt to lose. We are fully confident that we will show up against Tonga, and against England and the USA afterwards.”
‘Stars are aligned’
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Mario Ledesma insisted all was not lost for his side. “We must do what we set out to do,” Ledesma said.
“Against France, we didn’t in the first 40 minutes, so this time we must remain focused and overcome our mistakes. The most dangerous teams are the ones who aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
Pumas captain Pablo Matera added: “If we are talking about confidence, the team stands firm and tall, because what we did during the second half with France we can always replicate.”
Tonga were well beaten 35-3 by England in their opening match of this World Cup, with the defeat made worse by the fact both center Nafi Tuitavake (arm) and fly-half Kurt Morath (throat) suffered tournament-ending injuries.
Their last World Cup match against Argentina, a 45-16 loss in England four years ago, literally left its mark on some Tonga players.
“I don’t remember much, but I remember this,” said flanker Sione Kalamafoni, pointing to a scar on his right knee. It’s from that game.”
Meanwhile, Siale Piutau, the Tongan captain, took heart from their gutsy performance against England and the fact Uruguay beat the odds to beat Fiji in the first upset of this World Cup.
“There was definitely a lot of good stuff [against England], he said. “The physicality was much improved from the previous game [a 92-7 warm-up loss to world champions New Zealand in Hamilton].”
As for facing Argentina, the center added: “It will be another physical battle come Saturday. The scrum and line-out is also our strength and if we can match them I think we will have a good platform.”
And turning to Uruguay’s 30-27 defeat of Fiji, Piutau said: “We have seen there is a chance there. Once the stars are aligned there’s a wonderful opportunity for us.”
Foley back for Wallabies
Meanwhile, Australia coach Michael Cheika brought in half-backs Will Genia and Bernard Foley and dropped Kurtley Beale to the bench as he made four changes on Friday for clash with Wales on Sunday.
Dane Haylett-Petty starts in place of Beale at fullback and there was no room in the matchday 23 for Christian Lealiifano, Australia’s starting fly-half in the 39-21 win over Fiji.
Adam Ashley-Cooper comes in on the right wing to replace Reece Hodge, who was banned for three games for a high tackle, for what will be the 35-year-old’s 120th Test.
James O’Connor, recently reintroduced to the side after a long absence with disciplinary problems, will earn his 50th cap when he lines up in midfield alongside Samu Kerevi.
The Wallabies pack is unchanged with David Pocock again forming the ‘Pooper’ back-row partnership with captain Michael Hooper for Sunday’s Pool D game in Tokyo.
Australia were troubled by a physical Fiji in their opening game last weekend but they got a better grip on the game when Genia was introduced in the second half.
The Wallabies have a strong record against Wales although they were on the losing end last time they met, when a 6-9 reverse last November ended a decade-long winning streak.
Cheika was confident Foley could produce the goods at fly-half. “I obviously believe in him a lot, I’ve got a lot of history with him, and I think that he’s trying to fight against the challenge that Christian [Lealiifano] has brought to him, and Matty Toomua as well,” he said.
“That’s great for the team that he realizes ‘Okay I’ve got to lift my standard, this guy’s playing good footy and I’m getting my chance here’.
“At the World Cup you’re not given anything, you’ve got to take everything. Here’s an opportunity, go and take it. I’m sure he’s in that mindset as well.”
Cheika said he felt this was a “good combination” for this game and pointed to the strength on the bench, with the likes of Nic White, Kurtley Beale and James Slipper available as impact players.
The Australia coach, who said he would keep telling his players to tackle “low and middle”, could not resist having another dig at World Rugby over Hodge’s three-game ban, saying the winger had not yet decided whether to appeal.
“We’ll just suck it up and get focused on what’s important, and that is the match on Sunday. We wanted no obstacles to derail us and we are not going to let them get to us. We’ll just concentrate on our footy and do the best we can on Sunday for Australia.”
Meanwhile, Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales’ most capped player when he leads out an unchanged team against Australia in their Pool D match on Sunday.
Captain Jones, winning his 130th cap, will be making his 119th start for Wales since he made his debut in 2006.
In total, with nine additional British and Irish Lions Test appearances, he moves onto 139 Test caps, joint fourth on the all-time list and level with former Australia captain George Gregan.
Jones will feature in the same pack that recorded an opening bonus-point 43-14 victory over Georgia in Toyota on Monday.
“On a personal level it’s nice for myself and my family,” the 34-year-old Jones said of the record previously held by now-retired prop Gethin Jenkins.
“But there’s a bigger picture which is the game. No one’s going to be worried by numbers on the stat sheets during the game – that’s my focus and how I’ll continue.”
Head coach Warren Gatland joked that “you need a bit of luck” when asked about Jones’ achievement.
“He’s a great competitor. Since he’s been captain, we don’t have as many fights at training, because he used to start most of them – that’s how competitive he is. People who get to the top have a desire and a drive to be successful and he’s definitely done that.
“To become Wales’ all-time Test player with 130 caps is pretty special… hopefully there are many more to come. We’re very lucky to have him in the team and captaining the side.”
Jake Ball will pack down alongside the skipper with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis named in the front-row.
Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi form the back row, while Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar continue their partnership at half-back with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies forming the midfield partnership.
Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams are named as the back three, with Wales’ sole change to the matchday squad the addition of Owen Watkin in place of Leigh Halfpenny on the bench.