One year on from their ascension to the Rugby Chapionship, Argentina are ready to restart their quest for a first win in the tournament. Last season they came agonisingly close, drawing 16-16 with South Africa in a game that saw them lead twice by ten points or more. Add some composure to their undoubted ability, and they will be more than capable of springing an upset this time around.
There is no doubt that the decision to include them in a four-team competition has been beneficial. The South American Championship, in which they continue to compete against Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, does not offer such a nation a sufficient quality of opposition. This year they put 80 points past both Brazil and Chile; last year they posted an astonishing 111-0 scoreline over Brazil as well.
The visit of England over the summer would have been disappointing in that there were two fairly convincing losses, but in reality they were fielding a second team – if anything, the fact that they feel comfortable blooding a second wave of players can be regarded as a good sign.
It’s a fairly obvious one, but a full strength Argentinian pack is a force to be reckoned with. They will be without Marcos Ayerza and Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe for the opening game, but even without two of their biggest names it is still an impressive unit. Juan Figallo is an excellent scrummager and has been superb during his time at Montpellier – his partner in the front row, Matias Diaz, is only 20 and faces a baptism of fire against the Springboks, but has impressed at JWC level, as well as in his three senior caps so far.
Worcester fans will be keen to see Agustin Creevy get some game time off the bench before he joins them for the new season. The back three of Hernandez, Imhoff and Camacho has the potential to be deadly – and when you consider that they have Agulla on the bench and Amorosino not even in the squad, it is an area of real strength for Argentina.
The all important half-back pairing does not look as strong as it has in recent times. Nicolas Sanchez had a strong first season in Europe for Bordeaux last year, but at 24 is still very inexperienced at this level. And therein lies another potential weakness for Argentina – inexperience. With stalwarts like Roncero retiring, and Lobbe and Ayerza injured, there is a certain lack of experience at the very top level. Guys like Sanchez, Diaz and Matera, as highly-rated as they are, will be facing off against the experience of the Beast, Francois Louw and Morné Steyn – all players with a wealth of test experience under their belts.
Player to watch: Juan Martín Hernandez
‘The wizard’, as he is known, is a familiar face to Northern Hemisphere rugby fans after his stint with Stade Français and, currently, Racing Métro. During his tenure of the Pumas Santiago Phelan has seemed undecided on Hernandez’s best position, switching him between full-back and fly-half. He is a player that is capable of magic, as his nickname would suggest, but is also known for his clever kicking game. With an inexperienced fly-half dictating the game, his calming influence, along with that of Contepomi, will be vital to the Pumas’ chances.
From a neutral’s point of view, it would be fantastic to see Argentina string a few wins together over the Southern Hemisphere giants. However, it is tough to see them finishing anywhere other than last, this being only their second year in the competition. They are still adapting to the rigours of regular top-quality competition rugby, but do not be surprised to see them surprise one of the big three at home (Australia look particularly susceptible to an Argentine upset). Getting a win will be their main goal – once they have achieved that they can look forwards to perhaps climbing the table in years to come.
Horacio Agulla, Patricio Albacete, Ivan Marcos Ayerza, Marcelo Bosch, Oscar Gonzalo Camacho, Manuel Carizza, Felipe Contepomi, Agustín Creevy, Thomas Cubelli, Matías Díaz, July Farias Cabello, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Santiago Fernández, Juan Figallo, Mariano Galarza, Lucas González Amorosino, Eusebio Guiñazú, Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Jose Imhoff, Martin Landajo, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Nahuel Lobo, Benjamin Macome, Paul Matera, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Martin Rodriguez, Federico Nicolás Sánchez, Vicente Leonardo Senatore, Gonzalo Tiesi, Joaquin Tuculet
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Picture: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images