Welcome to a new series of articles, the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.
I will be going through these debriefs alphabetically, so today I will be casting my eye over Argentina.
The Pumas qualified for the tournament automatically by finishing in the top 3 of their pool in 2015, in fact they went all the way to the semi-finals, eventually finishing 4th overall.
It hadn’t been a good year for the Pumas. They came bottom of the shortened Rugby Championship, losing all 3 games including a 13-46 humbling at home to South Africa. Their losing streak continued in their final warm-up game against South Africa in Pretoria.
- Pool Stages (3rd in Pool C)
- France 23-21 Argentina
- Argentina 28-12 Tonga
- England 39-10 Argentina
- Argentina 47-17 USA
The poor form continued into the opening match against France as Les Bleus ran out to an early lead. Though the team fought their way back into the match they fell just short, with a late long range penalty from Emiliano Boffelli just missing. They started strongly against Tonga, scoring 28 points in the opening 28 minutes, but allowed Tonga to get back into the game and can consider themselves lucky that a penalty try was not awarded right before halftime when Tomás Lavanini stopped a try with what appeared to be a clear no-arms tackle. Lavanini was however rightly penalised for a high shot on Owen Farrell early on against England, earning a red card that quickly ended the match as a contest. With the quarterfinals already mathematically beyond their reach, the Pumas made some changes for their final match against the USA and it looked like they played with more freedom. In a performance more akin to what we have come to expect from the Jaguares in Super Rugby, the team put the Americans to the sword to end a disappointing tournament on a positive.
Before the tournament, there was a lot of talk about the exclusion of Santiago Cordero, Juan Imhoff and Facundo Isa as they were based in Europe. It certainly felt like they were missed through this tournament as the pack often struggled to get on the front foot, while the backs often appeared to lack any spark, something that Cordero would have given them. Selection questions continued for me as Bautista Delguy was barely used in the early matches despite having been one of their star players before his injury, while Jerónimo de la Fuente and Matías Orlando looked solid but unspectacular. Nicolás Sánchez looked far from his best until the match against the USA, while Benjamín Urdapilleta struggled heavily against England behind an outnumbered pack.
Even coming into the tournament, I had a feeling that the team was tired. With the majority of the players being part of the Jaguares team that went all the way to the Super Rugby final, there has been very little break for them in 2019 as they went from Super Rugby to the Rugby Championship, then the warm-up game in Pretoria and straight into the World Cup. Travelling frequently between Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and finally Japan will be extremely fatiguing and I think it led to a largely worn out team playing in the key matches.
While the tournament will not be one the team looks back on fondly, the final match against the USA was a timely reminder that there are good signs for the future. This squad has a core of stars coming through who are 27 or under, many of whom already have a significant number of caps to their name, while other stars for the future like Mayco Vivas, Delguy and Santiago Carreras have been exposed to the World Cup stage. 2 of their most notable individual performances came from Juan Cruz Mallia (23) and Julián Montoya (25 during the tournament), while captain Pablo Matera is just 26 and star lock Guido Petti is only 24. This is a team that should be building around the young talent over the next few years. The key now is finding a young fly half to build around. Both Sánchez and Urdapilleta are in their 30s and unlikely to still be around come the next tournament, so 23-year-old Domingo Miotti of the Jaguares appears to be the next man up and he needs to become a regular fixture soon in order to cement his place in the squad.
Playing home and away against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia is going to give their place in the rankings a hit, but to regularly play against some of the best will help the team improve. The important thing for them now is to widen the fields for selection. If they continue to select predominantly from in Argentina, they are currently limited to picking form just 1 top tier team: the Jaguares. This will continue to lead to issues of players being overworked and coming into the World Cup fatigued, while also creating a limited pathway for younger players coming through. The team needs to widen their scope to select European-based players if their form deserves it, or find a way to get another Argentinian franchise into Super Rugby, which considering the tournament is about to cut another team seems unlikely any time soon.