WELLINGTON – After six years in the Rugby Championship, Argentina believe they are finally maturing, know how to best use their Latin flair, and are looking to make an emphatic statement at next year's World Cup.
On the eve of Saturday's Test against the All Blacks in Nelson, Pumas captain Agustin Creevy and coach Mario Ledesma made a frank assessment of where their side is at.
“We're growing up,” said Creevy, crediting Ledesma with instilling a more professional attitude which produced a convincing win over South Africa in their last outing.
“He changed our mentality. We were always at the same level but he came and put pressure on the training and that was good for us.”
The 33-year-old hooker, a veteran of nearly 80 Tests, has seen his side win just four of 35 matches since the four-nation Rugby Championship was established in 2012, with their innate desire to play free-spirited rugby never quite enough.
The victories were against Australia and South Africa but never New Zealand, although Creevy said that was not as important as building towards the World Cup in Japan next year.
“Obviously it's sport and we want to win but now, promise, we want to do what we say we are going to do... next year is the World Cup and we want to be a serious team,” he said.
Ledesma, a prop who played 84 times for Argentina before retiring in 2011, spent seven years learning his coaching skills in France and Australia before returning home to guide the Jaguares to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time this year and take over the Pumas.
The biggest lesson he learned was appreciating that Argentinians must have structure in their game to complement their natural flair.
“It's a different mindset. We have a really different character. We're a little bit more passionate,” he said. “The bad side from that is we're not used to respecting systems and processes and everything changes from one week to the other and obviously discipline was a major issue.”
After his hard-nosed approach was rewarded with a win over South Africa, the next problem was to curb his side's natural inclination to celebrate and “not go over the top and be in too festive a mood,” Ledesma added.
“By no means do I want to change our DNA... It's just that we have to put the other things on top - keep the way we are and make it better.”
Ledesma also poured cold water on high praise from the All Blacks about Argentina's forward power, although it was an area he was trying to restore to its former glory.
“We've been struggling with the scrum for the last couple of years, no matter what everyone says over here,” he said.
“You build a house from the foundations up, not the other way round. We had all the skills and we could score beautiful tries but if you don't have the foundations you cannot go anywhere.”
Argentina have played the All Blacks 26 times and lost 25 with one match drawn. At the World Cup, they finished third in 2007 and fourth in 2015.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)