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The worrying trend with Argentina rugby

7 September 2017 1:11 PM
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The worrying trend with Argentina rugby

The relevance this week comes in regards to Argentina. Five years is surely enough to expect genuine improvement. Yet, with Los Pumas now in their sixth Rugby Championship, the proud South Americans have flat-lined at best - gone backwards at worst.

Patience was always required when the Pumas made the leap of faith to join the three southern hemisphere superpowers in 2012.

No doubt progress has been made in Argentina since. Development pathways, from the under 20s to national sevens and XVs, are now well embedded as the professional orchard attempts to capatlise on strong amateur roots.

The Jaguares' Super Rugby inclusion was supposed to be a major step forward but that, too, hasn't gone to plan. Year one the Jaguares won four games. And while they technically improved this year, their seven wins came without facing New Zealand opposition. Despite the easier draw, they again failed to make the playoffs. Eleven wins from 30 games is not where they want to be.

Ultimately, the Pumas represent Argentina's success or lack of. After three wins and one draw from 27 Rugby Championship fixtures, it is fair we now start to raise expectations and demand more.

The Pumas recorded solitary wins in this tournament - two over the Springboks, one against the Wallabies - from 2014 onwards.

The past 12 months has not been a happy time for the Pumas. They endured a dire end of season sojourn to Europe - losing to Scotland, Wales and England in their worst effort on record.

Twin home defeats in June to a second-string England side, one missing several front-line players due to the British and Irish Lions tour, compounded matters.

Also read: Record win not good enough, say All Blacks

Successive losses to the Boks leading into this weekend's test against the All Blacks in New Plymouth won't help confidence, either.

The upshot is the Pumas haven't won a test for ten months, with the last success coming in Japan.

This is a nation that has reached two World Cup semifinals, the last of which in 2015 against the Wallabies. In that tournament they pushed the All Blacks to the brink in their opening match at Wembley before fading in the final quarter, as they so often do.

Their first final four World Cup appearance was in 2007 - a time when 14 of the starting team were based in Europe. Argentina's recent struggles have led many to question whether they should relax their staunch eligibility stance that mirrors New Zealand in only selecting locally based players for the national team.

The issue with this policy, enacted to protect the Jaguares' credibility as much as the Pumas', is New Zealand harnesses five Super Rugby teams; Argentina one.

Australia (60 caps) and South Africa (30) now select from abroad provided criteria is met, and there is a push for Argentina to do likewise.

The situation as it stands means the likes of dynamic 23-year-old loose forward Facundo Isa, wing Juan Imhoff, the equal top try scorer in the 2015 Rugby Championship, centre Juan Pablo Estelles, lock Mariano Galarza and prop Juan Figallo, all of whom would be well in the frame, are excluded.

Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade admitted last year he would select three overseas-based players if they were available.

Also read: Shell-shocked Springboks need to rebound and quickly

Emerging Argentine athletes can hardly be blamed for opting to secure higher wages in Europe. While loyalty comes with a pathway to the Pumas, it also means enduring a ruthless travel schedule throughout Super Rugby and the international season.

On the field, Argentinian rugby has evolved dramatically from a forward-orientated game to breathless, all-out attack. Finding some semblance of balance has largely eluded them to now, and discpline remains a major issue. With rain forecast this week the suspicion is they will revert to a more conservative style.

The Pumas, as did the Wallabies in Dunedin, found success in Hamilton last year by exposing the All Blacks around the ruck, and have previously caused problems with their rolling maul.

"It's always hard getting a handle on the Pumas," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said. "The two games against South Africa have been very different from previous years.

This year we've seen a South African team that's played a lot of rugby and Argentina have tried to keep up with that with a lot of offloading.

"The games have been very fast and open. The South Africans have shown a bit more steel and finished them off and Argentina will be disappointed with that because the style of game should suit them.

Also read: Springboks prop Kitshoff happy to come off bench against the All Blacks

Source: odt.co.nz

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