For one last look at The Rugby Championship for 2021, I thought it was worth getting the panel to have a bit of a think about some of the individuals who made the tournament what it was this year.
It’s been a 2019 to forget so far for the Argentinian national side, with Los Pumas going winless in their four Tests. In fact, they’ve not tasted victory since their famous upset over the Wallabies on the Gold Coast last September.
But a superb Super Rugby season for the Jaguares – by far their best ever – has many bullish about Argentina’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stage at the World Cup in Japan.
Argentina Rugby World Cup squad
Pablo Matera (c), Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo, Mayco Vivas, Agustin Creevy, Julian Montoya, Santiago Socino, Juan Figallo, Santiago Medrano, Enrique Pieretto, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
Tomas Cubelli, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolas Sanchez, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni, Lucan Mensa, Juan Cruz Mallia, Ramiro Moyano, Bautista Delguy, Emiliano Boffelli, Joaquin Tuculet, Santiago Carreras.
All but five members of Argentina’s squad come from the Jaguares which, given they were Super Rugby runners up, makes a fair bit of sense. Two non-Jaguares are still based in Argentina, with only Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais), Benjamin Urdapilleta (Castres Olympique) and Juan Figallo (Saracens) coming from overseas clubs.
If not for intervention by new head coach Mario Ledesma, the overseas trio would be ineligible after the Union Argentina de Rugby originally imposed a ban on Pumas selection for overseas club players when the Jaguares were introduced. Ledesma, however, oversaw the introduction of Argentina’s own ‘Giteau law’.
If there’s one area Argentina excels in, it’s the breakdown. While he’s not the only player proficient in pilfering, when you’ve got Agustin Creevy on the field, you know you’re a chance of taking possession when just about any tackler rolls away.
It may not always come together on the field, but there is some genuinely scary raw talent on the Argentinian roster too. Emiliano Boffelli, in particular, stands out as a potential game-changer.
That’s not to mention that the Pumas made it all the way to the semi-final last time out and have much of that battle-hardened squad back on board for Japan – nine of the 22 players who suited up for the semi are in the squad for Japan.
The homogeneity of Argentina’s squad also can’t be underestimated. No top-ten nation will enter the tournament with as much synergy as Los Pumas, who’ve been playing together virtually uninterrupted since the last World Cup.
To put it blunty, Ledesma’s charges are badly out of form.
Since their history-making win over the Wallabies, they’ve lost every Test they’ve played. That run of eight straight defeats includes a 28-13 loss to France, who will likely be their biggest challenger for the second quarter-final spot behind England.
Of particular concern during their losing streak has been a real inability to put big scores on the board. After scoring 23 and 34 points in their two clashes with the Wallabies, Argentina have failed to crack 20 since. In six of those games, they’ve scored just one try, while also failing to cross the line at all in a loss to Scotland.
Their most recent warm-up (not including the pasting of Randwick last weekend) – a 24-18 loss to South Africa – was the first time in nearly 11 months they scored two tries in the same game.
Neither England nor France can claim to be particularly stingy in defence, but the Pumas must find some scoring touch urgently.
Weakness in the scrum has also long been a criticism of the Argentinians and that doesn’t appear to have been rectified in time for Japan.
The star outside back has to be the circuit-breaker for his side’s scoring woes.
The prodigious talent was a menace all season for the Jaguares and started the Rugby Championship well, playing a key role in their narrow 20-16 loss to New Zealand – easily their most impressive outing of 2019. The 24-year-old scored the Pumas’ only try in the gallant performance and was second in the side for metres run with 52.
It’s going to be up to the creativity of the backs to put points on the board for Argentina and the fullback position will be pivotal in that endeavour.
Ledesma switched between Boffelli and 2015 veteran Joaquin Tuculet at no.15 in four Tests this season, but Boffelli appeared to offer more.
While Tuculet played very well in the most recent outing against the Springboks, the experimental nature of Rassie Erasmus’ side means he should have offered more, so expect Ledesma to hand Boffelli the reins for the group stage.
Whoever does end up wearing the no.15, however, must give the Pumas the scoring spark they so desperately need.
If you’d asked us a year ago, we’d probably have Argentina nudging into dark horse territory. Unfortunately, an extended run of poor form rules them out of serious contender discussions.
They have the semi-final appearance from 2015 at their backs, but they played in a much easier group that year – contending with Georgia, Tonga and Namibia to finish second behind New Zealand.
Still, with a much stronger domestic rugby program in place since their run to the semis in 2015, and hardened by playing regularly against Rugby Championship opposition, the Pumas will keep whoever they play on their toes and deserve favouritism ahead of France for second place in Pool C.
It’s hard to see Ledesma and co. doing much more damage than that, however.