Analysis: Argentina’s poor Rugby Championship form

Date published: September 20 2017

This week our analyst takes a look at the poor performances delivered by Argentina in the four rounds of Rugby Championship Tests.

It may not have escaped your notice, but Argentina aren’t doing all that well in the Rugby Championship this season.

They’re yet to win a single game, in fact the closest they’ve got is a 17 point loss against the All Blacks. They have overall scored 21 points fewer than the next worse team, South Africa, and have conceded 30 points more than the most porous team Australia. They haven’t fared much better in the other stats; they have made 26 clean breaks which is 16 fewer than Australia, they are hanging off the back of the defender’s beaten chart, they are the only team in the competition to not record a double digits number of tries. They have two home games left to secure victory; against Australia and New Zealand.

There are a number of reasons why Argentina have lost all four games, they haven’t been clinical enough in the opposition 22, they have visited it 50 times but came away with a try 14 percent of the time – they came away with something positive (try, drop goal, penalty won) just 30 percent of the time. On the flip side, they kicked and gave away possession 44 percent of the time in the opposition 22 – that shows a dreadful lack of composure. However, what we will be looking at today is Argentina’s poor performance with one out runners. Argentina employ one out runners for around a quarter of all their carries and they gain an average of 1.4m, that’s worse than they gain from pick and goes. If Argentina can’t use one out runners more effectively to break down opposing defenses they will have to resort to moving the ball wider or, as we’ve seen above, kicking away possession.

First, the good – this isn’t a one out carry, because Agustin Creevy passes it. Of course, you can’t always do this, when Argentina did they got over the gain line and delivered quick ball. By just slightly changing where the ball carrier is coming from, it adds a significant complication to the defense.

Compare that to the above gif. Creevy is completely static and actually facing away from his support players. As soon as he gets the ball, Australia just focus in on Creevy and he’s stopped well before the gainline. This kind of play completely halts any momentum that has built up and was one of the reasons why Argentina kicked away so much possession.

This is Creevy again, he and flanker Pablo Matera had by far the most one out carries, 22 and 21, in the tournament respectively. As soon as Creevy takes the pass, he crabs across the pitch and presents an easy target for Scott Sio to stop in his tracks. Again, all of the momentum is gone and Argentina have to resort to the risky ball out wide.

It wasn’t all bad for Argentina, as Matera shows here, with a bit of footwork and running onto the ball, you can crash through the gain-line and stick your team on the front foot. Matera is up against a set defense but he gets on the weak shoulder and ducks his head to gain additional yardage.

Compare that to Nahuel Chaparro, the prop isn’t attacking the ball and gets it stood still. He doesn’t have the footwork, especially from a standing start, and ends up getting sacked behind the line. This is a constant refrain when watching Argentina, as great as the crazy offloading and ultra wide attacking is, the very simple skills of attacking the ball and putting in some footwork before the hit get lost. Given this, it’s not a massive shock that Chaparro has been involved in seven one out carries and is yet to gain a yard.

In this clip, lock Guido Pagadizabal gets the ball very deep and doesn’t really run on to it but he throws a dummy, he steps on the inside and he ends up getting the ball back to the gain-line. This is a big success considering how easy it would be for all of the momentum to just evaporate.

In this example, it’s clear that Argentina can turn this element of their game around. We have a prop distributing to the number eight, Tomas Lezana who crashes through the line. Again, this isn’t a one out runner but it’s a gain of yardage, it turns the opposition around and it creates quick ball which results in the kind of play we see below.

Quick ball, a player running at the line at an angle and the obvious result is a big chunk of yardage gained. That is what Argentina can do and it’s what they will need to do to get any kind of positive result in their two final games.

And then this is the final example, a reminder of the work that needs to be done. Nobody is taking charge of this situation. You suspect that the ball is aimed at Creevy but you have Argentinians running back into position and obscuring his view and the forwards are static anyway. You don’t need to be a top level international team to defend this.

This is a seemingly small part of a game of rugby, but it’s a quarter of all Argentina’s carries, and carries are obviously a massive part of the game of rugby. It’s a relatively easy fix as well, it’s the simple things that we say to kids when they take up rugby – running lines, attack the ball, footwork etc etc. Now, obviously it’s harder to do all that against the very best teams in the world, but Argentina have shown that on occasion they can, which makes it all the more baffling why they don’t do it on a more consistent basis.

by Sam Larner