As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Argentina!
It's easy to forget after such a shocking year for the Pumas that they actually finished 2013 with a win. An actual win! Over Italy, in Rome - their first over a Tier One nation all year.
2013 has not been Argentina's best campaign, not by a long shot. After being introduced into The Rugby Championship last season and partially convincing us that a first win in that tournament would happen sooner rather than later, Argentina figuratively, and more often than not literally, dropped the ball.
Perhaps the best way to sum it up is to turn towards the stats. The Pumas picked up a single win in nine matches, scoring an average of less than a try a game and conceding 309 points for a final points difference of -184.
Those numbers are fairly brutal for a team that wants to compete alongside the best in the world - either illustrating that their opponents have improved or Argentina have regressed. Perhaps if the schedule had fortunately seen the Pumas playing Australia first when Ewen McKenzie was still bedding in then they would have already pocketed that first win in The Rugby Championship, but the performances in November had the look of a team whose personnel were fatigued and in the case of many still had a whole European season ahead of them.
The UAR have attempted to handle this situation by selecting entirely separate squads for the June Tests against England to the one that turned out in The Rugby Championship and November Tests, but the resignation of Santiago Phelan after five years in charge only a few days before the Pumas turned up at Twickenham was never going to help matters.
Daniel Hourcade is now at the helm and the truth is that on paper, Argentina do at least look competitive. Nicolás Sanchez is developing into a fine Test fly-half, accurate with his goal-kicking and gradually forming a partnership with Martín Landajo. The triumvirate of Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Pablo Matera and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe has an idyllic mix of youth and experience in the back-row, not to mention talent. Patricio Albacete is still there in the second row to enforce matters and the scrum has been as dynamic a force as ever, with Marcos Ayerza adapting well to the new laws and Juan Figallo placing himself amongst the best tighthead props in the world.
Where the problems lie are with Argentina's execution. Juan Imhoff's try drought at Test level lasted over a year until he scored against the Azzurri, whilst Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino has proved ineffective. Marcelo Bosch was outstanding during The Rugby Championship at outside centre and plenty will hinge on his effectiveness going forward and his evolving partnership with Santiago Fernández. Too often though the Pumas' back-line appeared diminutive trying to stop the likes of Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea for the All Blacks or Israel Folau of Australia. They are lacking that big strike runner to unlock defences and whilst youngster Santiago Cordero holds great promise in the back-three, they are missing that key game-breaker to create chances.
2013 is a year best put to bed by Hourcade, who admittedly will have more time to plan ahead of next year's tournaments to decide on his best team. The likes of Albacete, Leguizamón, Lobbe, Ayerza and Bosch however will all be the wrong side of 30. The onus is on bringing through younger talent, spearheaded by the impressive Matera, to keep Argentina competitive moving forward up until and beyond the next Rugby World Cup.
By Ben Coles