Rugby Union: Argentina prove that anything is possible

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Argentina gave Clive Woodward and England a boost when they beat Australia, next Saturday's visitors to Twickenham, 18-16 in Buenos Aires.

With the wind at the backs the Pumas took a slender 15-13 lead before the interval with Agustin Pichot and Rolando Martin cancelling out the Australian tries scored by Owen Finegan and Ben Tune. The second half was a ferocious affair with Argentina's heroic defence holding out the Wallabies. Giannantonio increased the Pumas' lead to 18-13 with a penalty after 61 minutes, and although Australia had most of the play they could only add a David Knox penalty to fall short by two points.

Italy were told yesterday by the International Board that their admission to the Five Nations' Championship in 2000 should be approved in January, and then found themselves on the receiving end of a 62-31 drubbing by South Africa in Bologna.

Johan Erasmus, Pieter Rossouw and James Small each scored two tries and Justin Swart, Os du Randt and Dick Muir one apiece for the world champions while Henry Honiball kicked 17 points. Italy, who trailed just 22-20 at half-time, scored three tries through Paulo Vaccari, Julian Gardner and Ivan Francescato, and the boot of Diego Domin-guez supplied the other 16 points.

Gloucester's European Conference campaign ended in Paris yesterday when they were hammered 53-22 by Stade Francais, who ran in eight tries. Ireland's interest in the Conference also came to an end in France last night as Connacht were overpowered by Agen 40-27.

Bedford opened up a four-point lead in Allied Dunbar Premiership Division Two with an 11-try, 77-3 demolition of last season's promotion rivals Coventry. Ben Whetstone claimed a hat-trick of tries and Mike Rayer, the former Wales full-back, contributed 32 points to Bedford's tally. Waterloo, who prevailed in a 15-14 thriller at Blackheath, and London Scottish, 27-13 winners at Orrell, lead the chasing pack.

Leicester are aiming for their second successive away win over the French side Pau in today's Heineken European Cup quarter-final but are likely to be without their new South African lock, Fritz van Heerden, who is still subject to a contract registration dispute.

The transfer-listed England full-back Tim Stimpson looks certain to miss his fourth consecutive match when Newcastle entertain Castres in a European Conference quarter-final because of a persistent thigh injury.