Argentina have revealed their provisional 46-man squad ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan this autumn and there are a fair few familiar faces. They are familiar to us, of course, but also familiar with each other, head coach Mario Ledesma selecting 34 players from the marvellous Jaguares outfit that fell to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final this month.
Having so many men from the franchise is an enormous advantage for the Pumas and stands them in good stead for the tournament. The Argentines have been excellent at recent editions and another surge to the last-four is a distinct possibility given the impressive nature of their squad, though it is the Jaguares influence that should get the South Americans most excited.
It will also be the cause for alarm for many England Rugby fans, given that only two of England, France and Argentina can qualify from Pool C.
Unity and understanding; as a collective, that is what the 34 Jaguares players bring to the table. They know each other’s game inside and out, they know what their teammate is going to do before he even thinks about doing it, and they know how to work as a unit, rather than a band of individuals.
World Cups are the crème de la crème, where rugby’s elite meet their match and the margin for error somehow shrinks further. Matches are played on a knife edge and decided by small factors that build up into hugely-significant, game-winning ones. Experience with the man standing next to you is one such factor, making everything slicker and handing you an edge over your opponent.
What’s more, those that have been competing in Super Rugby have clear quality, as well as that ever-so-important familiarity. As we have mentioned, the Buenos Aires side made it all the way to the showpiece event in Christchurch, emerging victorious in 11 of their 16 regular-season games, including a first ever triumph away to the Hurricanes. They’re not just a group that have played a fair amount together, they’re a group that have developed a taste for winning, too.
However, the Jaguares battlers are not the only ones bolstering Ledesma’s side. Among those that ply their trade in Europe are Nicolas Sanchez and Facundo Isa; that’s a stellar duo. The former is the orchestrator-in-chief and has the skill-set to unlock almost any defence, with his Stade Francais statistics from this calendar year proving what a delightful playmaker he is. Sanchez has amassed 12 try-assists, beaten 14 defenders, and achieved an average gain of 13.2m for each carry – this is a fly-half that can take the game to the opposition. The 30-year-old’s strong kicking percentage of 83% makes him yet more important, though he can occasionally lack the range.
Isa, on the other hand, is an absolute specimen, powering through backlines and would-be tacklers. A tireless, ever-willing runner, the number eight is a weapon that can be used over and over again to bludgeon and, eventually, wear down a defence. His average metre-gain is half that of Sanchez, but it is worth remembering he is almost always carrying into traffic and putting in the graft work, whilst also building up a splendid tackle-count of his own, doing so with superb accuracy.
With these two gainline monsters playing starring roles for the Pumas, the team will no doubt have a chance of making it deep into the tournament, especially when they have Tomas Cubelli and Martin Landajo as first-choice options at scrum-half. Their combined total of 151 caps means there is plenty of experience and knowledge in a crucial position.
All this hype may seem pointless given Argentina’s dire run of results, Ledesma’s recruits failing to win any of their last six international match-ups. However, they were underwhelming in the build up to England 2015, yet still managed a semi-final appearance, coming close to defeating Australia in the closing stages before Adam Ashley-Cooper but an abrupt end to their hopes.
The next few weeks in the Rugby Champuonship should be more instructive with regards to how they will fare in Japan, and we’ll be watching closely.
By Ed Alexander