Pumas licking their wounds

2013-11-25 18:30
Daniel Hourcade (AFP)

Buenos Aires - With 10 defeats in 12 matches and a squad ravaged by internal divisions, 2013 has been an Annus Horribilis for Argentine rugby.

Less than two years away from the 2015 World Cup in England, Argentina have a lot of work to do if they are to arrive at the global showpiece harbouring any aspirations of reaching the knock-out stages, let-alone eclipsing their previous best performance, third place in 2007 in France.

For a team that since 2000 has regularly turned over the best of Europe and given the southern hemisphere's finest plenty to think about, Argentina have mostly been ineffective this year.

Their Rugby Championship was a mitigated disaster, despite losing by just one point against Australia in a 14-13 defeat at Perth.

They also gave the world's second best team South Africa a scare in Mendoza before succumbing 22-17 and twice held their own against world champions New Zealand for a half.

But a 73-13 crushing by South Africa in Johannesburg was a record between the two sides in the Rugby Championship or pre-Pumas Tri-Nations.

And when the opportunity was there in their final game to beat Australia and end the competition with a first Rugby Championship win to claim third place, they slumped to a humiliating 54-17 defeat in Rosario.

This all came after two heavy home defeats to a depleted England in June, when the Red Rose's best players were either on British and Irish Lions duty, or in the case of captain Chris Robshaw, rested.

Things barely got any better in their November tour to the northern hemisphere as the Pumas suffered a third defeat of the year to a full-strength England, 31-12, before Wales steamrollered them 40-6 in Cardiff.

Their only two victories came against second-rate Georgia 29-18 and a face-saving 19-14 success over Italy in Rome in their final match of the year.

But that, against a team in similar disarray, could not paper over the cracks.

"The victory over Italy has given respite to a group that needed it, but the road to the 2015 World Cup is long and it's vital they don't repeat the same mistakes that have punctuated 2013," said Argentine journalist Jorge Busico, co-author of a book called Ser Puma (being a Puma).

"It was necessary to end the year on a win but that will serve no purpose if the players, staff and directors don't adopt the principle in 2014 that they are starting from scratch."

After five years at the helm, head coach Santiago Phelan quit following the Rugby Championship, saying he'd had enough of the in-fighting in a divided camp too keen on washing its dirty laundry in public.

His successor Daniel Hourcade is far from secure in his position with Argentine Federation chief Agustin Pichot said to be mulling the idea of bringing in a high-profile foreigner.

In any case, something has to be done to stop the Pumas' slide as they now sit 10th in the International Rugby Board's world rankings, their lowest position for 10 years.

One problem that is harder to solve is the sparsity of new talent.

With stalwarts such as captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Patricio Albacete and Juan Martin Hernandez all the wrong side of 30, Argentina need fresh new blood to show their worth.

But there is precious little of it slinking into view.

Two who may make the grade are under-20s pair prop Matias Diaz and flanker Pablo Matera.

The first has just signed a contract with New Zealander Super-15 franchise the Highlanders while the latter has joined Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership.

They now have two years to force their way into the starting line-ups at their respective teams to get the regular top level club action needed to develop into a quality international.

Two years away form the World Cup, time is already running out for the Pumas.

Read more on:    pumas  |  santiago phelan  |  rugby

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