In what was a breakthrough year for the Jaguares in Super Rugby, one man led the way in a thrilling style that took the Argentinian side all the way to the playoffs for the first time in their history – Emiliano Boffelli.
The Rosario-born 23-year-old built on an impressive second season in 2017 to firmly establish himself as one of the most exciting runners in the southern hemisphere, scoring 10 tries, making 28 clean breaks and beating no fewer than 65 defenders.
And Boffelli has been just as impressive at international level.
He made his Test debut in June last year against England, and although the Pumas lost the first nine matches he played, Boffelli stamped himself as a player of true class, crossing for tries in his first three Tests.
Indeed his performances were so good in a misfiring national team that he was nominated for the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year last year along with Frenchman Damian Penaud and the winner, All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane.
#RugbyChampionship🏉 | #LosPumas🇦🇷 tienen equipo confirmado para jugar contra los All Blacks en Nueva Zelanda🇳🇿 este sábado desde las 4.35 am (ARG)— Sports Angle (@SportsAngleBlog) September 7, 2018
Boffelli;Delguy,Moroni,De la Fuente, Moyano;Sánchez, Landajo;Kremer, O.Desio, Lezana;Petti, Lavanini;T.Chaparro,Creevy y G.Botta pic.twitter.com/YATvfOIkH8
He has continued that form and more this season.
Comfortable on the wing, at full-back and even outside centre, Boffelli has all the skills.
Searing pace, superb in possession and he can even give the great Izzy Folau a run for his money when it comes to taking a high ball.
Boffelli uses speed and guile to outfox defenders rather than power. He is tall and rangy at 1.91m and just 93kgs. Compare that to Folau who is 1.94m and 103kgs.
A product of the Argentina youth system, Boffelli represented his country at U18, U19 and U20 level before a knee injury threatened to sideline him indefinitely.
But he came back stronger and quicker than ever as his performances this year attest.
The former Duendes club star puts a lot of his success down to his growing relationship with new Pumas boss, and former Wallabies forward coach, Mario Ledesma.
He also credits Ledesma’s assistants, former Pumas scrum-half Nicolás Fernández Miranda and centre Martín Gaitán.
“We are getting to know each other more and more,” Boffelli told La Nacion recently.
“The coaches try to force us to maintain the identity, with madness and laburo (hard work). It’s about running up to drink water and to get together. I know of their histories: they were tremendous players. And as coaches they are very successful.
“You can see they know a lot about rugby. I’m sure they’re going to do the team very well. So I’m really looking forward to this new stage, to learn and get the most out of Mario [Ledesma] and Nico [Fernández Miranda].
“I hope they teach me and I learn from them as much as possible.”
The toughest decision for Ledesma currently is where to play Boffelli. The versatile Puma has switched seamlessly between wing, centre and full-back for the Jaguares.
But now with No1 Argentina full-back Joaquín Tuculet out for the year after rupturing the anterior ligament of his knee against the Chiefs in May, Ledesma has mainly used Boffelli in the No15 jersey.
It was a position Boffelli excelled in as the Pumas upset the Boks in Mendoza 32-19, running for 63 metres, making two clean breaks, beating four defenders as well making two offloads.
A lot of the good things the Pumas did that day started and ended with Boffelli, as he won his first Rugby Championship match at eight attempts – and just his second Test win in 16, the other coming against Italy in Firenze in November last year.
There has clearly been a marked improvement since Ledesma took over the national coaching reigns back in June after long term coach Daniel Hourcade stepped down. Boffelli though deflects criticism away from his former mentor.
“If there is something that should not be reproached is the relationship (with Hourcade),” he says.
“The group is very close; the players, very close together, and the relationship of the coaches with the players is very good, there is a lot moving forward.
“We hope to continue having in 2018 that mystique that is in the team to get the best way to 2019.”
Despite the losing-streak breaking win against the Boks, Boffelli says the team must improve more against the All Blacks on Saturday.
“Without doubts, we have to improve in many things,” he says.
“It was shown that many times it does not reach what we do. But the team knows what it practices, knows what it points to, and that’s the most important thing.
“Luckily, we have time until the World Cup to reverse some things, and I think the team is very motivated and eager to learn. That has been showing the Pumas in recent years.”
Surprisingly for a team once known for its physical strength, Boffelli now feels that is one area the Pumas need to work on.
“There are teams that make a lot of difference in the physical,” he explains.
“We are faced with very tough opponents, but the team felt very good physically last year. The tiredness was noticed at the end of the year, because the same team plays many games.”
Boffelli says there is now more focus on the Pumas kicking game.
“In the tactical part, the foot was used more to get better out of our (part of the) field and not to wear out,” he says. “Before we tried a lot more to play in our field and we wore a lot.
“We tried looking for spaces in (the defensive line), where they really were not.
“Using the foot we left better out of our field and, without complicating us, we put ourselves in a situation of pressure to the rival.”
Boffelli began his Test career with a try scoring rush – three tries in three games. But since then he has failed to score in the next 13 Tests. He would like nothing more than a try on Saturday.
“I had my debut in 2017 in the Pumas and in the match in which I debuted I made a try, and in the next one, too,” he recalls.
“Then, I made another at the beginning of the Championship. I found that in three Test matches I had three tries. I could not believe it.
“For a wing to do tries is always very nice. Hopefully more will come (in this year’s Rugby Championship).”
Boffelli finished 2017 by being awarded a sliver Premios Olimpia (Olimpia Award), Argentina’s top sporting awards given annually by the Círculo de Periodistas Deportivos (Association of Sports Journalists) since 1954.
It will no doubt be the first of many awards in this talented young player’s career.
Know more about Sport360 Application