Pumas prowl for fresh hunting grounds
Europe could lose many Argentinian players as the Rugby Championship begins to bite, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY
It is about sustainability now for Argentina. Italy were brought into an expanded Six Nations tournament 12 years ago and have yet to rise above also-ran status. It took France the same length of time to win the old Five Nations outright in 1959, following their re-entry into the championship in 1947.
Argentina, we know, are an entirely different proposition. Irish rugby has been forced to respect them more than any other nation, except maybe France, mainly because they have ruined two Irish World Cup campaigns.
There is no need to revisit that night in Lens (1999) or the 30-15 defeat at Parc des Princes (2007) here.
Granted, in between, we enraged today’s Latin-blooded visitors in Adelaide, at the 2003 World Cup, before Ronan O’Gara’s late drop goal decided matters in a ridiculously heated encounter at Lansdowne Road in 2004.
The rivalry has died down in recent times, with Argentina striking out on a new path this summer. Entry into the old Tri Nations – re-branded The Rugby Championship – may not look so good a return when examining the bottom line: one draw and five defeats.
But the Springboks were lucky to draw in Mendoza, the Wallabies blessed to haul in a 21-5 deficit on the Gold Coast. Perhaps caught up in a wave of nationalistic fever by attempting to go blow for blow with New Zealand in La Plata – in front of a raucous soccer crowd – they were blown away 54-15.
Having battled the best three teams in the world five times over six weeks, they were understandably flagging when a desperate Australia wrapped up a fascinating tournament with a 25-19 victory in Rosario.
The immediate improvement from having a pre-season together and such ferocious competitive action was evident at the Millennium stadium two weeks ago and they troubled France last week before Les Bleus’ excellence came to the fore.
That defeat makes today’s meeting so important. After the longest year in their history they need another scalp to remain a threat to the status of every nation, All Blacks aside, in the current IRB pecking order.
Strength in depth
Their strength in depth is something to be taken very seriously. Take the jewels who have acted as playmakers these past 10 years. Felipe Contepomi is nearing the end of a glorious career, while the brilliant Juan Martin Hernandez has been injured more often than fit since 2010. But a soccer superpower like Argentina will never struggle to produce an heir to the number 10 jersey. Step forward Federico Nicolás Sánchez.