ARGENTINA SPOILT THE debut of Italy coach Conor O’Shea with a 30-24 Test triumph in Santa Fe Saturday thanks to two tries, and 20 points from fly-half Nicolas Sanchez.
Former Ireland full-back O’Shea has vowed to create “the best Italian team ever” and will draw some comfort from the close scoreline after five heavy Six Nations Championship beatings under French coach Jacques Brunel.
The Azzurri had a late chance to snatch victory when they dispossessed the Pumas after the hosts won a scrum close to their try-line, but the visitors were penalised.
Sanchez slotted six penalties and a conversion from nine shots at goal while rival playmaker Carlo Canna struck a conversion and four penalties from six attempts.
Argentina led 17-16 at half-time under a clear sky after each team scored one try and Sanchez and Canna rivalled each other in a goal-kicking duel.
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Winger Manuel Montero, absent injured when Argentina finished fourth at the World Cup in England last year, was the Pumas try scorer after 25 minutes to create a 11-6 advantage.
Veteran centre Juan Martin Hernandez delivered a perfectly weighted chip into the corner and Montero bravely dived to dot down under pressure from several Italians.
Leading 2015 World Cup points scorer Sanchez failed to convert from the touchline, his only miss of the half as he slotted four penalties from varied distances and angles
Another winger, Leonardo Sarto, crossed the try-line for Italy on 33 minutes and the conversion by Canna left the home team just one point ahead.
Excellent support play followed by a dummy from centre Michele Campagnaro created just enough space for Sarto to get over in the corner.
The half-time score reflected the closeness of the Test with neither team gaining a distinct ascendancy in the set-pieces or loose exchanges.
But despite leading at the break, Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade will have been furious that a string of recent red and yellow cards and bans involving his players continued.