Argentina seek first Championship win

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iol spt aug13 Boks-Argentina AFP Argentina have rarely been embarrassed, and even forced one draw, but go into their third Rugby Championship campaign still looking for their first victory. Photo by: Juan Mabromata/AFP

London - Argentina have rarely been embarrassed, and even forced one draw, but go into their third Rugby Championship campaign still looking for their first victory.

The Pumas have also yet to record a test win this year, having lost a home series 2-0 to Six Nations champions Ireland and also lost at home to Scotland in June.

And yet, Argentina are optimistic about this championship even if they realise it is arguably an even bigger challenge than in the previous two years.

Like them, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are all building towards next year's World Cup in England.

The closest the Pumas came to a win was in their second match, at home to South Africa in Mendoza in 2012 when they drew 16-16.

Coach Daniel Hourcade has now had almost a year in the position to forge his own team after inheriting Santiago Phelan's side last November on the cusp of their tour of Europe.

Phelan's Pumas lost all six tests in the championship last year, starting off with a veritable 73-13 mauling by the Springboks in the equivalent opening fixture to this Saturday's clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

Hourcade and his new captain Agustin Creevy have South African experience that should stand them in good stead as they try to set a tone for the team with a good start in the first two matches against the Springboks.

The Pampas XV, a feeder side previously coached by Hourcade, played in South Africa's third-tier Vodacom Cup between 2010-13, winning it in 2011 and in the process blooding a large number of the current generation of Argentina players.

Several more were promoted after the Pampas won the Pacific Rugby Cup in Australia early in the year with a squad made up entirely of home-based players.

Argentina are gradually depending less and less on players that have made their careers in France and England and the European exiles make up a mere third of the squad this year.

PAMPAS TO PUMAS

About a dozen of Hourcade's Championship squad played the Vodacom Cup, including hooker Creevy and the two players vying for the number nine jersey for the Pumas, Martin Landajo and Tomas Cubelli.

There is no magic from Nicolas Sanchez at flyhalf as there often was with Juan Martin Hernandez but there is solid playmaking and sound place kicking.

Argentina's third place at the 2007 World Cup in France remains their greatest achievement but only five members of that squad survive.

Among the backs, Hernandez and wing Horacio Agulla remain. Back row forwards Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon, both former Pumas captains, and loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza bring experience to the pack.

Hourcade has set his sights on building a side for the 2015 World Cup - a realistic timeframe when he took charge - and he is confident his team are already well prepared for this championship.

“I think we're well prepared, good in our heads. I have a lot of confidence in the team,” Hourcade said during the build-up.

That confidence extends to avoiding a similar fate to the nine-try mauling they suffered at the hands of the Springboks in last season's opener - the one occasion in the Rugby Championship when they were truly outclassed.

“Obviously, we don't ever want a repeat of what happened last year,” Fernandez Lobbe said

“Winning and keeping the ball and defence are key aspects in any rugby match ... The team has good attacking ambitions and if we can combine those four aspects I think we can have a good match.”

Argentina arrived in Pretoria 10 days before the match to get acclimatized to the 1,200 metres altitude with Hourcade leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to forge the best Pumas side.

“Adapting to the altitude is difficult but it gets better all the time,” Leguizamon said.

“It's one of the hardest matches of the year, without a doubt, because of the direct game South Africa play looking to subjugate you physically.

“Last year we succumbed which is why the mental factor will be fundamental to pressure them a lot and force them into mistakes.” – Reuters


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