State of the Nation: Argentina take step in right direction after three big scalps claimed in 2022

Adam Kyriacou
Pumas celebrate

Now that the 2022 international season has been wrapped up, we delve into the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Argentina.

Despite a negative record in terms of wins and losses, this year will largely be viewed as a positive one for Los Pumas under their new head coach Michael Cheika.

The Rugby Championship saw them pick up two significant triumphs as a 48-17 victory against Australia in San Juan was their biggest ever win over the Wallabies, surpassing their 18-3 triumph in 1983. That was followed by a first success over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil when they ran out 25-18 victors in Christchurch.

Despite losing their other four games in that tournament, those two results were landmark ones for Argentina and proof, yet again, that they can upset any team.

Indeed, while they finished bottom of the Rugby Championship table on nine points, there was plenty for coach Cheika to work with as they headed to the north.

Excellent start at Twickenham

The Pumas’ first assignment was a trip to take on a possibly cold England side, who had not played together since their mid-year Test series triumph over Australia.

Cold they were but take nothing away from Cheika’s charges as they deservedly came out on top 30-29, Emiliano Boffelli contributing 25 of those points for his troops. The scenes at full-time showed what this result meant to the players and also Cheika, who had just returned from coaching Lebanon in the Rugby League World Cup.

Unfortunately for the Pumas they were brought back down to earth with a bump in Cardiff the following weekend as Wales came out on top, winning 20-13. Hopes of a victory were dashed in the 47th minute of that game when full-back Juan Cruz Mallia had his kick charged down by Tomos Williams, who gave his side a cushion.

After the jubilation of Twickenham, the result and performance at the Principality Stadium was disappointing and they needed to regroup before Murrayfield. However, after improvements with their discipline earlier in the year, that issue reared its head against Scotland as early as the 21st minute, with Marcos Kremer’s mindless act at a breakdown leading to a red card. A further three yellows followed in the second period.

That was Argentina’s undoing as, like in many games in recent years, they were hamstrung by numerical disadvantages and penalty offences, with Scotland running out 52-29 winners on the day. Despite their cards, the Pumas did cross the whitewash four times but ultimately could not live with a rampant Finn Russell-inspired attack.

It was a disappointing end to a positive year for Cheika’s outfit, with the foundations definitely there to build a decent World Cup challenge in France next year.

Depth and confidence increased

There is suddenly depth in several positions for Argentina as the youth of Thomas Gallo and Mateo Carreras to name two have given them an injection of quality.

Up front has always been seen as where the Pumas’ strengths lie and in Julian Montoya they have a skipper taking on the possibly daunting mantle of Agustin Creevy with ease. Montoya leads a forward eight that is packed with size and quality.

Pablo Matera is now a settled number eight while Juan Martin Gonzalez offers significant quality on the flank, with the London Irish back-row’s speed and quality skill-set providing Argentina with the perfect link between backs and forwards.

All of the pieces are there for the Pumas to launch a solid attack at the World Cup. There is experience aplenty in their line-up that includes formidable midfield options such as Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Orlando and Matias Moroni outside a settled half-back partnership that is working nicely behind what is a powerful pack.

Picking up more Rugby Championship scalps and ultimately sealing a higher finish on the table is now the next objective before they take on what is viewed a favourable Rugby World Cup pool, alongside England, Japan, Samoa and Chile, with a return to the knockout stages very much on the cards for this dangerous Pumas side.

READ MORE: State of the Nation: All Blacks show promise after dispiriting start to the campaign