With the opening round of the Rugby Championship looming this weekend, we are previewing each of the four competing nations. New Zealand have dominated the tournament, winning five of the six incarnations since Argentina were added to the enlarged Tri-Nations in 2012, but can the Wallabies, Springboks or the Pumas break the All Blacks’ dominance this year?
Can it get any worse? When the Pumas were admitted to the enlarged Tri-Nations it was hailed as a glorious new era for Argentine rugby. But instead it proved the most hollow of false dawns. Since entrance was granted Argentina have finished last every year except 2015, and won just three matches out of the 33 contested, including one draw. The Pumas desperately need to find a way to turn it around. Can they ride on the back of the Jaguares’ success in Super Rugby to a much-improved performance in 2018?
Experienced captain Agustin Creevy will carry the workload upfront but it is veteran fly-half Nicolas Sanchez who dictates what happens when the ball comes out the back. The 29-year-old playmaker enjoyed a celebrated run in French rugby with Bordeaux and Toulon before returning to join the Jaguares in their first season in 2016. He was instrumental to everything good the Jaguares did this year, finishing fifth of the top point scorers table with 161 points.
Utility back Emiliano Boffelli was one of the most exciting ball runners in Super Rugby this year with 10 tries (sixth overall), 28 clean breaks (also sixth) and 65 defenders beaten (seventh). The Rosario-born 23-year-old is a homegrown talent having played all his rugby in Argentina to date, either with his hometown club Duendes or the Jaguares. Has played 14 times for the Pumas already, scoring six tries.
Traditionally the Pumas’ strengths are the pack, and especially at scrum time with the much feared “bajada” (or eight-man shove). But over the last few years there has been less focus on the set-piece in favour of an open ball-in-hand game plan, which has been entertaining but not effective in terms of results. However, Pumas have developed many enthralling ball runners.
As new Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has openly admitted, the biggest problem with Argentina is their defence. A lack of application and organisation has seen them leak an average of 33 points per game in their last 12 matches. You simply cannot win Test matches regularly when you leak that many points. They need to tighten up this facet of their game.
After a superb season with the Jaguares in Super Rugby, where he took them to their first-ever playoff match, former Pumas hooker and Wallabies assistant coach Ledesma has been given the national reigns after the sudden departure of Daniel Hourcade after Argentina’s disastrous June series, where they lost heavily to an under-strength Wales (twice) and Scotland. Can he work the same magic in The Rugby Championship?
WHAT THEY SAID
“We need to get back to the fundamentals of our game.
The top teams have a very effective bench. That, for example, is the difference between the three great sides in the southern hemisphere and teams like France, Wales and England.”
– Mario Ledesma, coach
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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
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