Tuesday, July 23, 2024

SPORTS | 15-10-2023 09:42

Wily Pumas veteran Nicolás Sánchez dreaming of one last hurrah

Nicolás Sánchez may not be the central figure in Argentina's attack that he once was but he's still dreaming of World Cup glory.

Nicolás Sánchez may not be the central figure in Argentina's attack that he once was but unlike some other high-profile fly-halves nearing the end, this veteran can still dream of World Cup glory.

Ireland icon Jonny Sexton, 38, and Wales great Dan Biggar, 34, both bowed out in Saturday's World Cup quarter-finals, bringing an end to illustrious careers full of ups and downs running their teams' respective attacks.

But while both can look back on seven Six Nations championships and three Grand Slams between them, World Cup glory proved a step too far.

For Sánchez, 34, there is still hope after his late interception try against Wales in Marseille clinched victory for Argentina, and a semi-final against the mighty All Blacks. 

"It was a little bit of intuition. I reached for the ball and tried to run fast," said Sánchez.

With time running out and Wales trailing by two points, replacement fly-half Sam Costelow – who had taken over playmaking duties after Biggar limped off late on – saw his pop pass picked off by the wily veteran.

Sánchez pinned back his ears and held off the backtracking Rio Dyer to score.

Emiliano Boffelli's conversion left Wales needing two scores in two minutes to stay alive.

As it happened, it was Sánchez who had the last word, stroking over a penalty to end the game and put some gloss on what had long been a razor-tight match.

"It was a moment for everyone, and for me with a different role," said Sánchez, who steered Argentina home in the final 11 minutes after replacing Santiago Carreras, 10 years his junior. "My whole family was there, in a country where I have lived for many years."


Crowning moment against All Blacks

Sánchez moved to France in 2011, a year after his Pumas debut, to join Bordeaux-Begles.

Later that year he would also make his World up debut in a pool stage match against Romania.

A brief stint at Toulon in 2014-2015 saw him win the European Champions Cup before a move home to the Jaguares franchise for its Super Rugby debut in 2016.

Two years later he was back in France to play for Stade Français and last year he joined Brive.

That was a difficult campaign, with Sánchez unable to prevent Brive being relegated.

Sánchez has had many happier memories in rugby.

With 894 points from his 101 internationals, he is Argentina's record points scorer.

This will not be Sánchez's first World Cup semi-final.

In 2015 he scored all of the Pumas' points in their 29-15 defeat to Australia at Twickenham with a perfect five penalties from five.

He finished as the tournament's top scorer with 97 points, including a try, 13 conversions, 20 penalties and two drop goals.

Perhaps his greatest moment in the light-blue-and-white jersey, though, came in November 2020.

Argentina beat the All Blacks for the first time and Sánchez scored all their points in a 25-15 success, converting his own try and adding six penalties.

He is unlikely to play another World Cup, and Sánchez is determined to enjoy this one, despite his limited role, in which he has only started one match – the historic 59-5 thrashing of neighbours Chile.

"We are lucky enough to be heading to Paris and we have to make the most of it," said the veteran, who will be playing in the French second division this season. "From tomorrow we will start preparing for the semi-final, we know it won't be easy."

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