Well then… the completion of the Rugby Championship for the year and the obligatory non-Rugby Championship games last week brings with it one very harsh reality for the southern hemisphere nations.
While most Roarers’ eyes are on the massive Bledisloe game this weekend, spare a thought for the other match being played.
Most southern hemisphere fans don’t see much European rugby where most ‘Argies’ ply their trade and many of the players who are household names in France and Britain are virtually unknowns down south.
I thought I’d try and fill in a few of the gaps regarding the hopes of the Pumas this year.
Not many would regard their entry into the world’s toughest rugby competition as a negative despite not having a realistic chance of winning it. However, this year I’m sure as a team they will have higher expectations than to just be competitive.
Just like last year they will especially target the Boks and Wallabies at home as genuine winning opportunities.
Even the most one-eyed South African supporter would admit they were lucky to escape with a draw in Mendoza last year.
There will be no complacency this year from the Boks but the Pumas will come with more confidence to the same venue to go one better. History beckons. I for one have tickets and can’t wait!
Last year the Pumas lost to Deans’ injury struck Wallabies but were in both matches until the final whistle. I think this year the Wallabies will be a more difficult task under MacKenzie but once again the Pumas will pounce on any scent of complacency.
The Pumas have substantially more depth thanks to last year’s tournament and the should be less fatigued and ready for whatever is thrown at them in Rosario.
The All Blacks generally win these games unless Hugo Porter is playing so don’t expect too many upsets either home or away.
All the same, the Pumas will be wanting to make an impression on the world champions so don’t expect them to lie down.
The home-crowd advantage
The fans in Argentina chant, jump, sing and shout throughout the match.
Only the the home kicker is afforded the decency of silence for taking penalties or conversions. The away kicker has to put up with a barrage of whistling and abuse.
Not very rugby-like but a fact of life here. Of course a harsh call by the referee doesn’t escape retribution either. Teams know that they need to get out in front to silence the crowd because the Argentine home crowd is worth points.
Hopefully there is no repeat of the disgraceful eye laser episodes this year and that the UAR is ruthless in dealing with any reoccurrence.
Amongst the squad there are European, French and English premiership champions.
The captain Fernandez Lobbe will be sorely missed for the first encounter in Soweto.
In my opinion he is only behind Kieren Read as the best no.8 in the game. He needs to be on the field if the Pumas are to cause upsets.
There are still some old heads in the pack with Albacete and Leguizamon and the rest of the pack (except young tight head Matias Diaz) all have RC experience.
It is rare that a Pumas pack gives a team and easy ride and don’t expect it this year.
Amazingly, captain for this weekend Felipe Contempomi is still playing, especially considering he played in the 1999 world cup!
He and JM Fernandez are past their best but watch out for Imhoff and Comacho on the wings to provide some youthful exuberance and speed in the back line.
Martin Landajo (one of only eight amateur players in the RC) who scored the try of the championship last year against NZ, is also in fine form and defenders around the ruck need to always be wary.
Outside backs Agulla, Amorosini and scrum half Vergallo (one of the two S15 players) are notable omissions from the starting line-up this weekend and this suggests to me that the Pumas are concentrating on the Mendoza game.
Ideal warm up
The hit outs between the Pumas and NSW was a great experience for both sides. It gave the Pumas an ideal platform to get some combinations going under match conditions as well as some practice with the new scrum laws.
They will be much better prepared for the RC this year and will be more likely to hit the ground running.
I don’t think they will win in Soweto but neither will they be over awed by the occasion which seemed evident last year. I’m sure the younger Waratahs thoroughly enjoyed playing an international line-up also.
Hopefully this tour trend continues.
Rugby in Argentina is presently booming as it slowly creeps into the professional age. It may be many years before the Pumas win the RC but their involvement is a massive boost for the sport here.
Geography and economics are tricky obstacles for rugby in Argentina but the RC is going a long way to challenge these adversities. Full professionalism is probably further away than most people think but I believe they deserve their place. I wonder if Argentina win the RC before Italy win the 6N?
For now though, along with the rest of the rugby world outside South Africa, I would just like to see the Pumas win in Mendoza this year!