Argentina's pride now matched by attacking ambition
On Rugby:Those dastardly Pumas are back and while the nasty edge may have dissipated in recent times, once more there’s plenty on the line for an 18th meeting overall and 10th since 1999. But they also have way more arrows in their quiver than in their last two visits. And they’re sharper too.
In 2008, the absence of Felipe Contepomi was compounded when Juan Martin Hernandez was ruled out in the warm-up, in a grim 17-3 defeat, and though Dr Phil returned two years ago they didn’t show much more ambition when beaten 29-9 that day.
The biggest single difference of course, is that these Pumas are evidently already feeling the positive impact from competing in the Rugby Championship for the first time. Where before they have arrived in Dublin for the final leg of their November tour with, at most, five friendlies under their belt in the calendar year, they arrived this week having played 11 Tests since the beginning of June. What’s more, those additional six games were competitive matches against the top three sides in the world. Having beaten Italy and France at home before Les Bleus gained handsome revenge in Tucuman a week later, Argentina were competitive in all of their six games in the Championship. As eye-catching as anything was how previously unheard of domestic part-time players rose to the challenge.
Their production line of players, without a professional game of their own, is remarkable. Only a chargedown try by Francois Steyn cost them an historic victory in their first home game, a 16-16 draw with the Springboks, and they let slip a 19-6 lead in losing to the Wallabies on the Gold Coast. Strictly on a formbook through South Africa and New Zealand especially, Argentina would possibly be entitled to start favourites on Saturday rather than five point underdogs. After all, they were 11-point underdogs when beating Wales a fortnight ago.
The benefits of competing in the Championship were highly evident that day, and afterwards head coach Santiago Phelan repeatedly cited his team’s greater familiarity with the intensity generated from playing the world’s top three sides.
That game also highlighted the positive impact of Graham Henry’s increased involvement with the players as well as the coaches, witness the second-half double whammy which effectively earned them their 26-12 win over Wales. For the first, Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe attacked the outside centre channel and offloaded out of the tackle in turn for winger Juan Imhoff to cut through and swerve around Leigh Halfpenny. They also used the full width of the pitch for the try by Gonzalo Camacho which followed soon after.
It’s highly doubtful whether such tries would have been in their attacking repertoire on their last visits here, and Argentinian journalists confirm as much.