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Argentina’s Rugby Team Impressive in Championship Debut

Argentina’s Rugby Team Impressive in Championship Debut

Posted by Shanelle Weir on September 05, 2014

Coach Daniel Hourcade’s plan to make Argentina a better all-around team is starting to bear fruit, even if it hasn’t resulted in what the team wants most — a victory in the Rugby Championship.

Eleven months after he took charge, the Pumas are starting to mix their set-piece strengths with a more creative attack out wide, and the other teams in the Rugby Championship — South Africa, New Zealand and Australia — are starting to take note.

The Pumas obliterated the Springboks scrum — normally a strength of the South African game — and scored three tries using a mixture of speed, smart kicking and excellent ball- handling in a tight encounter in Salta, Argentina, two weeks ago.

Until a 76th-minute penalty kick by South Africa flyhalf Morné Steyn, Argentina looked as if it was going to secure its first-ever win in the four-nation tournament, only to be edged, 33-31.

Argentina may have lost that game — along with the one the week before in Pretoria, South Africa, 13-6 — but the change in style did not go unnoticed.

The Pumas play New Zealand, the world champions, here on Saturday, and Ian Foster, a New Zealand assistant coach, described Argentina’s play in the opening two rounds as “dramatically improved from last year.”

All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen was more measured in his assessment.

“The South Africans really struggled with them at scrum time, so they’ve obviously got that part of their game going well,” Hansen said. “I think their back three are exciting. They want to run. They are scoring tries. There are some very capable rugby players there.”

That has not always been the case for Argentina. For a long time, the Pumas were a team that relied on a powerful scrum, combative loose forwards and a kicking flyhalf. That style earned them a third-place finish at the 2007 World Cup — one of the team’s greatest achievements — and it also allowed them to knock off France, England and Wales over the years, too.

But that approach was never going to be enough to be consistently competitive against or defeat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa once the annual Tri-Nations competition was expanded and renamed to include Argentina in 2012.

It has been a steep learning curve for the South Americans, with their best result coming in a 16-16 draw with South Africa in their debut year.

For the first two years in the competition, the former New Zealand coach Graham Henry worked as a technical adviser for the Pumas, alongside Coach Santiago Phelan. Improvement came slowly, and the players contracted to European clubs struggled to play the sport year-round as they fulfilled their club and Pumas commitments.

When Phelan quit last October after a difficult Rugby Championship campaign in which Argentina suffered huge losses to South Africa (73-13) and Australia (54-17), Hourcade took over after coming up through the Argentine coaching system.

 

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