State of the Nation: Argentina

Date published: June 29 2016

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Argentina.

After Argentina finished fourth in last year's Rugby World Cup they looked like a burgeoning rugby superpower, thrilling all of those watching on their run to the semi-finals. But their latest outing suggests otherwise.

The South Americans hosted Italy for one Test followed by a two-Test series with France, which they drew. They scraped past what looked like a pedestrian Italian side before winning against a very weak French side.

But then came the big shock of the month, pummelled by a slightly stronger Les Bleus outfit 27-0 in Tucumán. It's worth noting too that the Top 14 finals were happening on the same weekend, so France were missing some of their best players including captain Guilhem Guirado.

But back to Argentina. After the introduction of the Jaguares into Super Rugby, the Argentina Rugby Union made the decision to exclusively pick players who compete in Super Rugby for the international team from June onwards – a brave call as some of their most experienced players ply their trade overseas. Veterans such as Marcelo Bosch, Marcos Ayerza and Juan Imhoff are therefore all ineligible, forcing Daniel Hourcade to blood young players.

This is probably a good move considering Hourcade has just enough time to build a strong player base before the next Rugby World Cup, but to lose 27-0 at home is a sign that matching last year's accomplishments will not be an easy task.

In theory a national team that plays together the whole year round with minor changes in the international window should be incredible, even though Super Rugby and Test rugby are very different beasts. Playing together that consistently should perpetuate team chemistry and unity. Yet initially all it seems to have accomplished is to further ingrain some bad habits. The worst of which is their discipline.  

The Jaguares are ranked number one in yellow and red cards in Super Rugby. This pattern of ill-discipline seems to have permeated into the Pumas. Argentina had a player sin-binned in each of June's three matches and it's impossible to stay competitive in the international arena without a full team on the field. 

They are breeding some powerful players though. Manuel Montero was unlucky not to go the Rugby World Cup due to injury but the behemoth of a winger is back playing some fantastic rugby. He scored twice this series, against Italy and in the first Test against France. The Buenos Aires born winger, nicknamed 'The Panther', seems to somehow propel his gigantic two metre and 105 kilogram frame with plenty of speed.

Nicolás Sánchez is still an attacking threat as he scored a collective 35 points over the series and his game management remains exceptional, able to switch between an attacking game to a conservative one at will.  

The old guard seems to be steadily drifting on for Argentina but there is a lot of hope considering the Pumitas' rambunctious performance in the World Rugby U20 Championship. Argentina finished third after hammering South Africa in the third place play-off.

They have a budding crop of young talent that should definitely bolster the international side in years to come. Fly-half Domingo Miotti was incredible off the tee throughout the tournament while Juan Cruz Mallia is proving to be a talismanic leader while also an astute try-scorer, crossing the line three times against South Africa in their final game.

As for the senior side's next challenge, Argentina has shown massive improvements since joining the Rugby Championship in 2012 but after a tumultuous series where they looked fairly poultry, they will need to refind last year's form urgently if they're to cause a scare. 

by Nicholas McGregor

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