We are well into the week of the start of the Rugby World Cup, and every country should be ready for their World Cup campaigns. One country that needs some work ahead of the start of the showcase in Japan is Argentina, who have been less than inspiring over the past two years. Despite making some headway into becoming a real world rugby power after joining the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship, they have since taken a few steps backwards in their performances.
Since the Tri-Nations was expanded into the Rugby Championship, Argentina have enjoyed some great results agaonst the likes of South Africa and Australia, beating both of them both home and away at least twice since the last World Cup. In this time, Argentina have also added more balance to their general play; looking more deadly on attack, and more structured on defense. However, things changed when the Jaguares, who were added to Super Rugby in 2016, began showing the same levels of improvement as their national side had done.
The Jaguares are made up of the vast majority of the Argentine national squad, with only roughly three players per season in the Jaguares team that have not been previously capped by Los Pumas. In 2018, the Jaguares found better form, and started creeping up the log table, which has seemed to have a drastic effect on the National side. The last match that Los Pumas were on the winning side of was all the way back in August 2018; a season in which the Jaguares had started to find success with their wide-ranging, attacking-focused brand of rugby. This does not seem like a coincidence, ass the best season the Jaguares has ever had saw them finish second in Super Rugby, and it is a season in which Argentina have lost all of their matches.
What has been apparent is that the Jaguares, who still make up roughly 90 percent of the national side, are not giving up on their attacking style of play. It is clear that the players enjoy this plan, and they are very strong at it, however this has not translated into Test Match Rugby. As Mario Ledesma has taken on the Jaguares players into the national team, he has had to drill in a completely new, test-focused gameplan into his players, which has not been implemented well by a group that seems incapable of playing test match rugby.
The problem with having all but three players in a national team coming from the same franchise (and not having the head coach of the national side involved in the coaching of that franchise) is that all of the players are already used to one style of play, and it is highly difficult to break that mentality, especially if it has been as successful as the Jaguares’ has been in 2019. This has resulted in Argentina slipping to their lowest place on the World Rankings since joining the Rugby Championship.
Another aspect of the Argentinian legacy that has been hurt since the last World Cup has been their legendary scrum. There was once a time when Los Pumas’ scrum was the best in the world; envied by most forwards coaches for their stability, technique, strength and power. There was an aura about the Argentine scrum machine, which seldom cracked and made any true rugby supporter (i.e. a forward) unnecessarily excited. However, the current Argentine front row are rarely capable of holding up a scrum long enough for their scrum half to clear it out. They have been dominated by a number of scrums in 2019, particularly being shown up by the All Blacks and South Africa in 2019. It is not really clear what has happened to Argentina’s scrum, but it should definitely be on the top of the list for Ledesma to correct before they meet France in their opening game of the World Cup.
It is highly unlikely that, given their terrible season in 2019 and their problems at scrum time and with their national gameplan, that they will be able to break away from the Quarter-Finals in Japan. What will be interesting to see, though, is how much trouble they will cause the likes of England and France in their group, and whether or not they will even be able to make it out of the group stages. Argentina will have to target France, as it seems unlikely that they will be able to knockout England. If Argentina manage to claw their way out of their pool, they likely either be knocked out by Australia or Wales, both of whom have looked much more menacing than Los Pumas in the last 12 months.