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Tigers and Pumas produce fitting Ayerza tribute

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Leicester Tigers and Los Pumas paid a fitting tribute to prop Marcos Ayerza, producing a hugely entertaining clash at Welford Road that was won 55-34 by Argentina.

Tigers welcomed Los Pumas as part of prop Ayerza’s testimonial year. For the Pumas, the Marcos Ayerza Testimonial Challenge was their final game before the Rugby World Cup while for Tigers it was their first game of pre-season.
And they produced a feast of running rugby on a sunny afternoon, sharing 13 tries and more than 80 points.
Tigers came back from 38-13 down early in the second half to give the Pumas a real scare. Harry Thacker, Freddie Burns and a sensational score from Paolo Udogwu brought Tigers back to within four points, 11 minutes from time.
But three late tries for the visitors eased them to a win as they head into their first World Cup clash with New Zealand at Wembley on September 20.
Tigers gave first appearances to summer signings Peter Betham, Greg Bateman, Mike Fitzgerald and Lachlan McCaffrey, and to Argentina international Gonzalo Camacho after his recovery from a shoulder injury.
There was also a taste of the big Welford Road occasion for young players such as Joe Maksymiw, Will Owen and Owen Hills.
Ayerza started in the front row for Los Pumas, who named former Tigers trio Lucas Amorosino, Horacio Agulla and Pablo Matera among their replacements.
Tigers settled quickly into the game, taking the attack to Argentina in the opening exchanges but they fell behind to a stunning counterattack. Los Pumas made the most of turnover ball, their slick handling created space for wing Santiago Cordero to scoot over at the right corner. Nicolas Sanchez, the Toulon fly-half, converted.
Tigers hit back through Tommy Bell’s long-range penalty to put their first points on the board after six minutes.
Argentina looked to keep the ball alive, offloading from the tackle, and their handling created an opening for Marcelo Bosch to cross under the posts for their second try after 12 minutes, which was converted by Sanchez.

The game was played at a hectic pace, with both sides looking to run the ball at every opportunity, underlined by Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini tapping a penalty on the Leicester 10m line and freeing Bosch. He was well tackled by Fitzgerald, who somehow returned to his feet to make the next tackle and force the penalty for holding on.
Argentina wing Juan Imhoff finished off a free-flowing Pumas move to score at the left-hand corner. Converted by Sanchez from the touchline, it gave Argentina a 21-3 lead midway through the first half.
Seb de Chaves stole Pumas lineout ball and swift hands gave Camacho the chance to show his pace down the left wing. However, he was stopped on the Pumas 22 and full-back Joaquin Tuculet read the offload to clear the danger.
Tigers turned down a kickable penalty, and went to the corner. It almost paid dividends as they set up camp on the Argentina line with Christian Loamanu and Laurence Pearce both stopped just short before Los Pumas went offside.

Tigers went for the corner again, and this time set up the drive. It took them up to the Argentina line where Brugnara found a gap to dive over for the try. Bell’s conversion cut Argentina’s lead to 21-10 with 10 minutes to go to half-time.
Tigers went close to a second try six minutes later. Sam Harrison’s bruising tackle turned over possession and Betham span out of a tackle and to within 10m of the Pumas line. However, the ball went to ground as Tigers tried to take advantage of the position and the Pumas cleared.
Instead, it was Argentina who scored the next try. Sanchez read Bell’s pass and intercepted on halfway for a clear run to the posts. He converted to give the visitors a 28-10 lead.
Bell landed a monster penalty from halfway with the last kick of the half to leave Tigers 28-13 behind at the break.
A much-changed Tigers team took to the pitch for the second-half, with Bell moving to full-back. Freddie Burns partnered George Tresidder at half-back with Seremaia Bai and Matt Smith in the centre. Pearce remained at No8, and was joined in the back row by McCaffrey and Charlie Beckett. Hills, Harry Thacker and Fraser Balmain formed the new-look front row.
Argentina struck early in the second-half, hooker Julian Montoya scoring from close-range after excellent work by their driving maul.

The driving maul was an effective weapon for Argentina and they had Tigers under pressure again at a 5m lineout. Tigers defended the initial drive but, when the ball was moved wide, were unable to prevent Agulla stepping off the left wing to score and give Argentina a 38-13 lead.

But despite conceding two tries early in the second-half, Tigers regrouped and hit back to give their Test quality opponents a real scare.
Thacker led the charge, charging down Amorosino's attempted clearance. The ball bounced nicely for the hooker, who dabbed down behind the posts. Burns added the extras to leave Tigers 38-20 behind.
George Worth, Tigers’ replacement full-back, halted Juan Manuel Leguizamon’s break for the line and then got to his feet to swoop on loose ball and Burns cleared the danger.
It proved an important intervention by the Academy back as Tigers took advantage to score their second try of the half. This time it was Burns who read the play for an intercept try, picking of Jeronimo de la Fuente’s pass to score under the posts.
It got better for Tigers moments later. Paolo Odogwu made the most of some space on the right wing, stood up Agulla and then had the pace to finish a stunning try at the right-hand corner. Burns’ touchline conversion left Tigers 38-34 behind with 10 minutes remaining.
Ayerza returned to the pitch to play the final final few minutes for Tigers, receiving the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
Argentina eased their nerves with a try for Newcastle back Juan Pable Socino, which although unconverted, moved the visitors more than a score ahead.

And with Tigers tiring on their first run-out, Argentina ensured their victory with two tries in the final three minutes through Leguizamon and Agulla’s breakaway.