The poor results of the Pumas and Jaguares over the last two years led the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) to make changes in their organisational scheme from the small and young – but important – professional Argentinian rugby that had been in the hands of Daniel Hourcade.
The first change was made at the beginning of the year, with the entry of Mario Ledesma as Jaguares head coach, replacing Raul ‘Aspirina’ Perez.
Reflecting on what we saw in Super Rugby 2018, this was very positive in terms of results and also in terms of the professionalism of the players on and off the field.
A second change was the departure of Los Pumas head coach, Daniel Hourcade, after a very bad performance in the June window that did nothing but confirm what had been coming for over a year – an incoming suitable replacement.
In the first week of August, Mario Ledesma was announced as the new head coach of the Pumas, having demonstrated the changes he could exercise in Jaguares and considering transferring those changes to the national team.
It’s too early to tell who will be in charge of the Jaguares next year, but the most noise is around Gonzalo Quesada. The former Puma has played in two World Cups and is the record-holder with 31 converted penalties in 1999.
As a head coach, he took Stade Francais to the title in the French Top 14 during the 2014-15 season.
The first match of the Pumas will be on August 18, when they face the Springboks in South Africa.
This leaves very little time for preparation, taking into account these same players not only played all Super Rugby season, but also will represent Los Pumas in the June window and will need to rest.
The task of Ledesma and his staff will be to put a competitive team on the turf beyond the results.
If we are guided by what we saw from the Jaguares, despite the great improvement that we all could see, the task will not be easy since the demand will be different and greater in the Rugby Championship.
To start, the team has to improve defensively, because in the last three games they conceded more than 120 points, and many of them very easily. At the international level we know that staying in the match is very complex when you concede more than two tries, and therefore this is the main focus.
In other words, the plan must be to score points when the team is playing with momentum but to concede few points in the minutes that the opposition regains the upper hand.
The Jaguares in 2018 showed they have firepower in attack and that when they arrive in the scoring zone they return with points, so the attack isn’t the biggest worry.
The second aspect is the scrum. The Jaguares finished last in this statistic and have several problems, especially in the first row where, for different reasons, Argentina is short of players and are not looking likely to solve them in the short term.
The rules of the scrum in Argentine rugby, both for youth and adults, are different from international ones.
The domestic scrum rules attempt to avoid serious injuries but are also preventing the development of players in positions that we all know are keys to every game.
If we add a couple of players who emigrated to Europe and some others who are injured, the coaching staff is facing a difficult scenario to solve.
This is that much of a problem that Mario Ledesma asked the UAR to review the current ruling that prevents players in Europe from playing for Los Pumas and the request was taken into account.
For extraordinary cases of urgency, requests for exemption will be considered, and the only requests made at the moment are for front rows. Judging by the words of the UAR president, the union will be satisfied and so maybe the scrum will see some improvement.
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The third theme is a recurring one in Los Pumas: how to maintain the intensity of the game for 80 minutes and not to fall down in the final 20.
The Jaguares have already shown they can play the 80 minutes with intensity – they’ve won games in those final fateful minutes, therefore demonstrating that it isn’t a matter of physical shape.
Against the Super Rugby teams, the Jaguares bench is competitive and, in some instances, superior to the ones of several teams. But if we look at the benches of the Springboks, the Wallabies, and All Blacks, all comprise starters in their respective teams.
The possibility for these nations to select players from four or five teams is a huge advantage when it comes to forming a strong bench. The Pumas cannot compete and the solution is not around the corner.
I think with Ledesma as head coach, we are going to see a team that is a little different from Jaguares in terms of the use of the ball. The attacks will be made from the opposite end of the field and not from everywhere. These attacks will be based on a strong line, which happens to be the set piece that improved most since Ledesma’s arrival.
If we add to this the intensity, the speed and the possession of the ball, I think we will see a competitive team playing against the other three that will also be testing new things and new players with one eye on the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
The first match against the Springboks carries with it the possibility of an upset since it is very likely that they will not have the Lions players available as they were involved in the Super Rugby final.