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  • Charles Patterson

Los Pumas Flying the Flag for South America

As one of three South American teams at the Rugby World Cup, all eyes will be on Argentina as the continent’s greatest chance of a medal. Chile and Uruguay are expected to take risks but will ultimately make little impact. Meanwhile Argentina are already up there with the heavyweights and bring an exciting brand of rugby too.

Having come third in 2007, and reached the semi finals again in 2015, the question has to be whether Argentina can go one further eight years on.

D is for dominance

Argentina’s first match is against England, arguably their biggest test in Pool D, but made considerably easier by the absence of Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola due to high-profile bans. England haven’t clicked at all yet under Steve Borthwick, while Argentina under Michael Cheika have impressed – notably running South Africa close in this year’s Rugby Championship, a game they could have won but for three missed kicks from Santiago Carreras.

Samoa shouldn’t be taken lightly either, having pushed Ireland close in their final warm-up game. Los Pumas have the pack to match Samoa though, both in experience and talent. Julian Montoya is captain, not yet 30 but already with a Premiership winner’s medal. He also started Argentina’s historic first win against the All Blacks in 2020.

The Pan-American clash with Chile will be exciting but will surely be a walk-over. Argentina have grown so much in the 10 years they’ve been included in the Rugby Championship. Chile themselves are on the up, but the gulf between Tier 1 and 2 countries is still far too big.

If Argentina haven’t already qualified by the time they play Japan on 8th October, you’d think this will be the match where they’ll seal it. Japan pulled off the impossible when they beat South Africa back in 2015 but haven’t really kicked on since their pool stage wins against Ireland and Scotland in 2019. The Sunwolves’ inclusion in Super Rugby promised much but the club was dissolved in 2020. Japan’s Rugby League One isn’t anywhere near as good for developing players.

2023 is a mixed bag

With the Southern Hemisphere international season not starting until the summer, it means Argentina amongst others have only played a handful of matches this year going into the World Cup. The Rugby Championship was one win, one loss, and one that got away. Having started with a heavy defeat to New Zealand, it appeared ominous, the only positive in that opening match being a try for centurion Agustin Creevy.

Victory in Sydney against Eddie Jones’s struggling Wallabies boded much better, with the tries split equally between backs and forwards. The wonderfully named Jeronimo de la Fuente and the rapid Mateo Carreras touched down either side of captain Montoya, with the young Saracens back-rower Juan Martin Gonzalez scoring late on. Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli missed just once from the tee.

It was a case of what could have been for Argentina in Johannesburg. They were outscored three to two on tries, but a 100% success rate from the kicking tee would have secured a 29-22 win and second place in this year’s shortened tournament. As it is, they fell just one point short, finished third and are left to contemplate ifs, buts and maybes. A one-point defeat against the Springboks is not to be sniffed at this year with the South Africans sweeping aside all-comers (including the All Blacks) with relative ease.

Los Pumas’ final warm-up was their only match against a Tier 2 team so far this year, demolishing Spain 62-3, scoring nine tries in a free-flowing performance. Nicolas Sanchez this time was the kicker, missing just two conversions.

Where do their strengths lie?

Whereas most nations rely on one kicker, the Argentinians have at least three – Boffelli, Sanchez, and Santiago Carreras can all be trusted, not just for points but also for territorial gain.

The experience amongst the squad is probably the main strength though. Agustin Creevy is Argentina’s most-capped player, recently hitting 100, while Nicolas Sanchez and Pablo Matera are in the 90s, and four players just behind with more than 80 caps. But experience can also mean age, and age can begin to be a weakness in rugby. The stamina that once carried a player for a full match can began to wane, the big hits leaving more of a mark on them. A third of this squad are above 30, with four of them being 35 or older.

Who’s in the squad?

Like Japan’s Sunwolves, Argentina’s Jaguares no longer play in Super Rugby, which means there is only one home-based player – Rodrigo Isgro, who is a well-known name on the World Sevens circuit. With two-thirds of the squad being based in England or France, there will be some familiar names on show, including a quartet from Newcastle. The final names in the squad include one from Japan, one from New Zealand, one from Scotland and one from Wales. It’s a globe-trotting Pumas squad who look ready to conquer.

Props: Eduardo Bello (Newcastle Falcons), Thomas Gallo (Benetton), Francisco Gomez Kodela (Lyon), Joel Sclavi (Stade Rochelais), Mayco Vivas (Gloucester)

Hookers: Agustin Creevy (Sale Sharks), Julian Montoya (Leicester Tigers), Ignacio Ruiz (Perpignan)

Locks: Matias Alemanno (Gloucester), Marcos Kremer (Clermont Auvergne), Tomas Lavanini (Clermont Auvergne), Guido Petti (Bordeaux Begles)

Back rowers: Rodrigo Bruni (Bayonne), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Juan Martin Gonzalez (Saracens), Pablo Matera (Mie Honda Heat), Joaquin Oviedo (Perpignan), Pedro Rubiolo (Newcastle Falcons)

Scrum-halves: Lautaro Bazan (Rovigo), Gonzalo Bertranou (Dragons), Tomas Cubelli (Biarritz)

Fly-halves: Santiago Carreras (Gloucester), Nicolas Sanchez (Brive)

Centres: Santiago Chocobares (Toulouse), Lucio Cinti (Saracens), Jeronimo de la Fuente (Perpignan), Matias Moroni (Newcastle Falcons)

Wingers: Emiliano Boffelli (Edinburgh), Mateo Carreras (Newcastle Falcons), Juan Imhoff (Racing 92), Rodrigo Isgro (Argentina Sevens)

Full-backs: Martin Bogado (Highlanders), Juan Cruz Mallia (Toulouse)

How far can Los Pumas go?

Given it’s a weakened England squad they’ll face in the opening game, I’d predict Argentina to top Pool D, which could throw up an absolute classic of a quarter final v Fiji and possibly a rematch with South Africa in the semis. If that’s the case, I think it’ll be a third or fourth-place finish for Los Pumas. But it’s win-or-bust for a lot of the older players in what will surely be their last World Cup so don’t expect them to go down without a fight.


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