Championship preview: Argentina

Date published: July 14 2015

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We preview each of the team's prospects ahead of the upcoming Rugby Championship. Next up, it's los Pumas from Argentina.

Can Argentina build on their historic first Rugby Championship win last season, and how much of a priority will they place on the tournament this year? Daniel Hourcade's team haven't got it easy with difficult trips to New Zealand and South Africa, but they will certainly be battle-hardened come the World Cup. And Australia will be apprehensive about a tough trip to Mendoza, especially after what happened last season.

Last Year: The Pumas got their first win in the competition in their third participation when they turned over Australia 21-17 in Mendoza, overcoming an early 14-0 deficit. To be fair, one win from six games was far less than they deserved in a tournament where they gave South Africa a real scare both home (31-33) and away (13-6), and were also inches away from snatching a draw in Australia (32-25). Only New Zealand proved far too strong for them with a 28-9 loss away and a 34-13 defeat at home, but it was certainly Argentina's most impressive tournament to date.

This year: Daniel Hourcade has already made it clear that in World Cup year, he'll be using the Rugby Championship to fine tune his squad for September and October. He's already left a number of players out for the trip to New Zealand, so expect the Pumas to find life tough on their two away games. Australia at home will surely be the game Hourcade is targeting, and if the Wallaby scrum begins to creak, Argentina will fancy their chances of back-to-back home wins in the tournament.

Key Players: Last year Argentina had the best front row in the tournament and they will be hoping for more of the same this year. Juan Figallo's injury last week hurts their depth, but the trio of Marcos Ayerza, Agustín Creevy and Ramiro Herrera will cause everyone problems at scrum-time.

Elsewhere Nicolas Sánchez has emerged as one of the most reliable fly-halves in World Rugby, and should arrive fully refreshed after a short stint with Toulon this season. His combination with either Martín Landajo or Tomás Cubelli will provide Argentina with a relatively experienced half-back pairing, even without the reassuring presence of Juan Martín Hernández for the start of the tournament.

Players to watch: Powerful back row Facundo Isa was signed up by Toulon when he was still just 19, and while he couldn't break through with the French giants, it was a sign of his potential. He has since returned to Argentina, and shone on last year's November tour to Europe. He will be virtually unknown to Rugby Championship opposition, but expect him to make an impact very quickly.

In the backs, Santiago Cordero has been talked about for a while as one of Argentina's most exciting prospects. A devastating runner with a sevens background, an injury to Manuel Montero might open up a spot for him in the back three. He's had to wait to establish himself since making his Test bow at 19, but this might just be the year for him, either at full-back or on the wing.

Prospects: There's no question that Argentina were much-improved last season, but this year their focus is very much on the World Cup. They should be competitive against Australia but it's hard to see past a heavy defeat to open things up in Christchurch, while, depending on selection, they might not come too close to a first win over the Springboks either, when they travel to Durban on the final weekend. They might surprise us but it's hard to see past fourth place this year.

Fixtures:

Fri, 17 July v New Zealand (Christchurch)
Sat, 25 July v Australia (Mendoza)
Sat, 8 August v South Africa (Durban)

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