Argentina's World Cup run-in may be winless to date, but its immense promise endures
They may have failed to get claim victory in either of their opening fixtures in 2019, but Los Pumas’ fortunes continue to rise as they head towards their Pool D challenges in the World Cup.
Despite being as the only winless side in The Rugby Championship this so far this year, Argentina have gleaned just as many positive notes as any of the All Blacks, Wallabies or Springboks, all of whom currently have one win to their name in two weekends of action so far this year, and are heading towards Japan in fine fettle.
South Africa are top of the pile when it comes to building pre-World Cup momentum, and are reaffirming the promise of the Rassie Erasmus regime for the rainbow nation. The All Blacks have suffered a significantly concerning blow after seeing Brodie Rettalick’s shoulder put out of socket against South Africa last Saturday, and are waiting for a number of key matchday squad members to return to full fitness. The sand left falling in New Zealand's hourglass is threatening to descend before the likes of Ryan Crotty, Scott Barrett and Liam Squire can get game time under their belt before a colossal opening World Cup clash with the Springboks. Although, the promise of the Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett 10-15 combo has shown notable early promise. Australia, meanwhile, seems as rudderless as ever in their victory over Argentina; raising yet further aspersions over their ability to avoid losing out in the pool stages in Japan to both Wales and a promising-looking Fiji outfit.
Argentina showed serious promise in a narrow defeat to New Zealand on home soil a fortnight ago, and seem to have fallen afoul of a travel-heavy season when struggling to put together a cohesive performance in defeat to the Wallabies in Queensland last weekend. Obviously, a defeat is rarely, if ever, a positive in sport, but Saturday's loss seems far less concerning than the manner of Australia's last two weekends as a collective, claiming one victory from two.
This is, in part, due to the fact that Argentina headed into The Rugby Championship with ample of excitement fluttering around the national team, and the knowledge that yet further quality was soon to be added in the form of the nation's top-paid overseas stars. The promise of a Jaguares side that made their way to inaugurating Super Rugby final mixed with a smattering of said overseas players made for a promising formula, and remains a bright light in their journey to Japan as they look to come together as a Test side, not merely a club team wearing national jerseys.
Saracens’ tighthead prop Juan Figallo and Stade Français fly-half Nicolas Sanchez were the first names to integrate into a Jaguares-dominated Test side in a 16-20 defeat to New Zealand in Buenos Aires Both justified their selections in quiet yet reasonably assured performances. Last weekend, it was the turn of the dynamite stick that is Toulon number eight Facundo Isa and once Exeter Chief now Bordeaux magician Santiago Cordero; a man that mesmerised the English either on the wing or at fullback. Isa’s tank-busting return was the brightest of lights in defeat to Australia over the weekend, while Cordero was kept uncharacteristically quiet on a subdued right touchline. Fellow winger and Jaguares star Ramiro Moyano took over the mantle of mental Argentina wing at the Suncorp Stadium, ensuring the spotlight was not shone exclusively on Isa, lighting up the left touchline with a handful of piercing runs directly through the Aussie defence.
Against the All Blacks, we saw the type of performance from Mario Ledesma's men we came to associate with the Jaguares in Super Rugby. While against Australia, we saw the Jaguares of old; disorganised, indisciplined and regularly erratic. The reason this second performance is far less disconcerting is that we have come to learn that Argentina deal with defeat like almost no other side in international rugby, more often than not shrugging off the previous week's disappointment with a trademark Latino shrug of the shoulders; and potentially a cathartic post-match interview in which one of the Pumas speaks openly about disappointment and inaccuracies to a level any other Tier one player would give their right hand to steer clear of, preferring the standard media trained response. There is also the obvious issue of the weary nature of constant travelling for the core Jaguares contingent, knowing that this was a final road trip before a promising fortnight in their preferred time zone.
Argentina now face the pleasant prospect of a rare two consecutive weeks in their home country before having to undergo the demands and pressures of a matchday, a prime opportunity to get together and both organise and recharge. Argentina will head to Pretoria in their final Rugby Championship fixture a week after the host South Africa on the 10th of August, the most rest time they’ve had since this time last year, has since endured the hectic nature of their 2018 November internationals and the 2019 Super Rugby season.
The challenge left remaining for Mario Ledesma and co is the continued integration of the likes of Sanchez, Figallo, Isa, Cordero and newly returned former Newcastle Falcons hooker Santiago Socino. But as far as their winless 2019 season to date is concerned, only South Africa can claim a more prosperous start to their World Cup run-in. The feeling associated with witnessing Argentina ramping up towards a World Cup is one we have become accustomed to, and it perseveres despite back-to-back defeats for Los Pumas.