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Ledesma to face pressure for Argentina’s World Cup failure

October 5, 2019
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Referee Nigel Owens shows Argentina's Tomas Lavanini a red card after a dangerous tackle during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between England and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Referee Nigel Owens shows Argentina's Tomas Lavanini a red card after a dangerous tackle during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Tokyo Stadium between England and Argentina in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

TOKYO (AP) — Argentina is about to make its earliest exit from the Rugby World Cup in 16 years, and coach Mario Ledesma knows his future will be a hot topic.

“Obviously I’m the head coach and I’m responsible,” Ledesma said after 14-man Argentina lost to England 39-10 on Saturday in Tokyo. “As far as I know my contract is still running.”

Argentina’s exit at the group stage would become official on Sunday if France beat Tonga — as expected.

Ledesma’s coaching performance in this Rugby World Cup will be immediately compared with that of Gonzalo Quesada, who coached the Argentina-based Jaguars — using almost all the same players — to the Super Rugby final in June.

Ledesma and Quesada played together on Argentina’s national team — Ledesma as a hooker and Quesada as a flyhalf.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Argentina reached the semifinals in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, and also made the final four in 2007.

“I was not able to meet the expectations, and I’m quite disappointed about that,” said Ledesma, who described this Rugby World Cup as “wide open,” further adding to the pain.

Argentina was on mostly even terms with England and trailed only 5-3 when Tomas Lavanini was red-carded in the 18th minute for a dangerous tackle on England’s Owen Farrell.

“I thought it was fair,” Ledsema said of the red card which left Argentina with a man down for more than three-quarters of the game. “It had a big impact, especially because it was pretty early in the game.”

The England loss hurt, but worse was the 23-21 loss to France in the opening Pool C match. Argentina trailed 20-3 at the half, and then rallied hard. Argentina rebounded with a 28-12 win over Tonga to finetune for the England match, but it ultimately did no good. Argentina will finish its campaign against the U.S. Eagles on Wednesday, three days before England and France meet to determine top spot in the group.

Ledesma talked about looking to the future and repeated that 16 of his players had made debuts in this Rugby World Cup. He also pointed out that England failed to advance from the pool stage in a tournament it hosted just four years ago.

“There’s always teams that win or lose in the World Cup. We’re not the first,” he said.

The match was edgy from the start, players often pushing and shoving. And it got a bit worse after the red card, which seemed to motivate Argentina and give players a “psychological lift,” as England coach Eddie Jones called it.

“I probably wouldn’t call them fights,” said Farrell, who was nursing a sore jaw from Lavanini’s high tackle. “But yeah, there was a lot of stuff after the ball. It’s not something we want to get caught up in, but we want to be able to look after our players.”

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