Argentina’s lowly 10th place in the world rankings belies their World Cup credentials but the Pumas should be eyeing a spot in the knock-out stages in Japan.
The Pumas have reached the semi-final stage in two of the last three editions of the competition and Ireland fans will certainly remember how they destroyed the boys in green in their 2015 quarter-final encounter in Cardiff.
Recent form may suggest an Argentina side off the pace compared to those dazzling heights they scaled four years ago, but the South American outfit have proved not to be overlooked come the grand stage.
Since reaching the last four in 2015, Argentina have won just eight of 39 matches, which is a meagre 20 per cent success rate. To break that down even further, they have won an average of just three games a year out of possible 13 fixtures.
And despite sealing just two victories out of a possible 12 last season, Mario Ledesma’s side recorded their best ever Rugby Championship performance before losing three games in a row against Ireland, France and Scotland in November.
There is no shame in losing to Ireland, but defeats by France and Scotland cast doubts on their chances ahead of the World Cup, where they have been drawn in a competitive pool with England, France, the United States and Tonga.
They have shown they can go toe-to-toe with the elite sides in the world but recent narrow losses against New Zealand and Australia in June leave them with little time to gain momentum going into a tough World Cup group.
With a final Rugby Championship encounter against South Africa at home this weekend, Ledesma’s men need to fire at setpiece time, where they have struggled in recent weeks, or they risk losing more confidence ahead of their crucial pool opener against France in six weeks time.
It’s likely the winner of that opening fixture will take runner-up spot in Pool C behind England.
A recall of experienced European-based players could be the difference between winning and losing against the big boys in Japan.
Los Pumas’ had previously been made up of players solely from the Jaguares’ team, who reached the Super Rugby final for the first time this year, but those rules have relaxed over recent times.
Pablo Matera, Emiliano Boffelli, Tomas Lavanini, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Matias Orlando, Matias Moroni and Guido Petti all starred for the Buenos Aires-based side this year, as they defeated three of the five Kiwi franchises and topped the South African conference en route to the league decider.
The evolution of the Jaguares is symbolic of how the international squad has improved and adapted to the rigours of southern hemisphere rugby over the years. What is also significant is how previously underrated players have developed into stars of the competition.
Captain Matera, for example, has blossomed into one of the competition’s best flankers, and rarely has a bad game whether its in the black and orange of Jaguares or sky blue of Argentina.
Of the European-based players, Juan Figallo (Saracens), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Francais), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais) and Benjamin Urdapilleta (Castres) are some of the names that add experience and class to Ledesma’s squad.
Widely regarded for their prowess up front, Argentina have developed a more open style of play in recent years, with record points scorer Sanchez pulling the strings from No10. His fast hands, clever kicking and ability to exploit space will be pivotal to how their elusive back-line fare.
Backed by a new spirit instilled by coach Ledesma, the Argies should hopefully hit performances of the right note come their September 20 showdown against Les Bleus.
A lot will rest on that opening game, and if the sky blue and whites can prevail, then a fifth quarter-final in six tournaments should be viewed as a positive campaign.
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