With club rugby over for another season, the thoughts of many fans have been turning towards the upcoming World Cup and the squads that their teams will be selecting. However, for the teams of the Rugby Championship, their focus has had to be initially on a shortened version of their annual tournament.
The Jaguares only formed 4 years ago, but this season was by far their most successful to date as they went all the way to the Super Rugby final, where they lost to a strong Crusaders side. This team is the home of the vast majority of the Argentina squad as in recent years coaches have tried to only pick players playing within Argentina, but they have relaxed the rule of late and coach Mario Ledesma has said that he will pick overseas-based players if he does not feel that he has sufficient cover from within Argentina.
As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series with predictions of each 31-man squad for the Rugby Championship teams, starting with the Pumas. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, taking into account the players selected and performances from the first 2 rounds of competition, while also looking at some notable names who are not included but could come into consideration. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Ledesma will pick, which is why you may see a couple of notable overseas players miss out.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
- Predicting the Fiji squad
- Predicting the England squad
- Predicting the USA squad
So without further ado, I predict that Ledesma’s 31-man World Cup squad will be:
Argentina have only taken 2 hookers in their last 2 World Cup squads, so I can’t see that changing here. Santiago Socino has become eligible after moving back to Argentina and made his debut off the bench against Australia, but I think it will be too late for him to beat out the pairing of Agustin Creevy and Julián Montoya.
Such has been the quality of Juan Figallo for club and country, I am confident that he will be considered despite playing overseas. Santiago Medrano is the incumbent home-based player at tighthead, so I see him being comfortably in the squad too. On the loosehead side, Argentina have recently relied on Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro as their starter, while Mayco Vivas appears to have edged ahead of Santiago Garcia Botta. The Jaguares scrum has not always been the most reliable this year and Figallo appeared to struggle against Argentina, so I think Ramiro Herrera will also travel to bring greater experience and options to the position.
The Pumas have generally taken 4 locks to recent World Cups, but from the squad they have picked for the Rugby Championship, I can imagine them making do with 3 specialists and then having some cover from the back row. If this is the case, then Lucas Paulos is the unfortunate player who misses out in favour of the more experienced trio of Guido Petti, Tomás Lavanini and Matías Alemanno, who have been the ones involved through the first 2 rounds of the Rugby Championship.
The last 2 World Cups have seen Argentina take 6 back rowers, but I think that this year the number will be 7 as Marcos Kremer travels as cover for both the back row and second row positions. Pablo Matera is a clear pick as he has developed into one of the best flankers in world rugby and starred in the Super Rugby final, while Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Javier Ortega Desio, Tomás Lezana and Rodrigo Bruni bring a good balance of recent success with the Jaguares and international experience. This leaves one spot, which I feel will be taken by Facundo Isa, whose international career stalled following a move to France but he looked at home on his return to international rugby and can join Matera to create the basis of a devastating back row.
The Pumas have only taken 2 players at this position to the last 2 World Cups, which will lead to a difficult decision for Ledesma. Tomás Cubelli looks nailed on for the squad having played the vast majority of minutes over the first 2 rounds of the Rugby Championship. Martín Landajo’s move to Harlequins this summer probably hinders his chances of travelling to Japan. I initially had Gonzalo Bertranou taking the second spot given his greater international experience, but it looks like Felipe Ezcurra has skipped ahead of him in the pecking order and despite limited minutes in the first 2 rounds of the Rugby Championship, he set a good tempo against Australia and also won a penalty with a strong jackal.
Despite having moved to France, Nicolás Sánchez is easily the best option at fly half and I imagine that he will continue to lead the backs through this tournament. Hem may not have had the best of matches in the Super Rugby final, but Joaquín Díaz Bonilla has done a fine job of helping the Jaguares to their best ever finish so looks to be Sánchez’s backup at the position. Though recent World Cup squads have only included 2 fly halves, I don’t think either of the above players have excelled so far in the Rugby Championship, so I think he may take another experienced option here in the form of Benjamín Urdapilleta.
Jerónimo De La Fuente and Matías Orlando have been a starring midfield for the Jaguares and regular partners for the Pumas too, so they are the clear picks here. Beyond that, I have gone for Matías Moroni, who has split his recent international career between wing and outside centre, and Juan Cruz Mallía, who can also provide cover at 15 if needed.
This leaves space for 5 players in the back 3, which makes things more difficult for the European-based Santiago Cordero and Juan Imhoff, such is the strength available at the position. Bautista Delguy (currently playing for Jaguares XV in the Currie Cup after recently recovering from a season-ending injury), Emiliano Boffelli and Ramiro Moyano made a fine trio over the last year, while Joaquín Tuculet has the class and experience to potentially demote one of them to the bench. The final position was initially going to the versatile Sebastián Cancelliere, but he misses out after not featuring in the first 2 rounds of the Rugby Championship. His place instead goes to Santiago Cordero, who was given the full 80 minutes against Argentina and also has the benefit of excelling at wing or fullback, which could prove useful as the games come thick and fast.
Who do you think will make it to Japan?
As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6