DURBAN - The Argentina side has always been seen as a bit of a charity addition to what was once known as the Tri-Nations. The South Americans struggled in the past, but things are changing, especially with their addition to Super Rugby as well.
Both the Jaguares, and the Pumas, which are almost interchangeable in terms of their makeup, have grown exponentially over the last few years. They have, in Super Rugby, beaten all of the South African side this year, made the play-offs, and won well away from home.
As Los Pumas, they have beaten the Springboks, home and away, and Australians, and given the All Blacks a run for their money. All of these factors has led to the Springboks taking them very seriously for this opening encounter in Durban on Saturday. Springbok assistant coach, Matt Proudfoot, spoke with reverence about the Pumas, especially in an aspect he knows a lot about - the scrums.
Argentina have at their helm a famed scrummager as head coach in Mario Ledesma, and because of this, Proudfoot predicts a return to their traditional strengths. Ledesma has also broken the blockade on selecting overseas based players by including Saracens-based tighthead, Juan Figallo who last played in the 2015 World Cup.
“Brining in quality players from overseas does improve your, in this case, scrum - we have done the same,” Proudfoot explained in regards to Figallo’s call up. “But they will be formidable, no matter who plays for them.
"History has taught me that when you watch them is Super Rugby compared to when you face them in the Pumas jersey, they are a step above. We are expecting a tough challenge, it is always a tough scrummaging battle against them. That is something they pride themselves on. The head coach is a scrum coach himself, and I have seen a change in their system as he has been driving pride in that.”
Ledesma will also be the only coach in the Rugby Championship with a strong sense of continuity and togetherness in his national squad because of the similarity in make up of the Jaguares and the Pumas. “They have a lot of continuity in their side from Super Rugby to the Test arena,” Proudfoot added. “They are also comfortable winning away.
“That is the thing, to face them in the first game... they are comfortable playing in South Africa, it is easy for them to get here, they have spent time here, they are in our pool, they know our players. The difficult thing about the first game of the Championship is it tends to be about continuity and running together well, they already are there, they have the same style, same coaching staff, and they will just slot in from Super Rugby to Tests.”
It is true that most international team in their first game together of a new season or competition have a lot of rust to shake off, but according to Proudfoot, that won’t be an issue for the Pumas. It is a big boost for the Argentinian side, but another factor the coach is concerned about is their national pride.
“The Pumas rugby history is big, having been there, and been in Argentina, and seeing them sing the anthem,” the coach went on. “I know a lot of rugby people there and they might not even embrace the Jaguares, but when the Pumas play, the whole country gets behind them and the players feel that. When you feel the country getting a feel good factor off of you, that promotes the players, they want to perform, they want to shine for their jersey.”