It is doomsday for Los Pumas. Confirmation can now be made that Argentina will play in the RWC 2019 pool of death. Results from the 2017 Six Nations did not go Argentina’s way which, consequently sees the South Americans remaining 9th in the world.
Having fallen to Wales, Scotland and England in November the South Americans fell in the rankings. The results came on the back of a decision by the UAR to block the selection of players based in Europe. Head Coach Daniel Hourcade defended the selection but admitted there were three players he would have selected if available.
The signs were clear in November though there was no panic. Much of the Argentine media was careful not to criticize the results. Calm was called for as Argentina had France, Scotland and Wales all closely ahead. It was thereby hoped that one or more would fall below the South Americans.
All eyes were on the Six Nations. With calculators in hand there were indeed multiple scenarios to save Argentina. All fell flat though. Firstly Scotland upset both Ireland and Wales at home. France then defeated Scotland, Italy and Wales while the Welsh overcame Ireland at home.
It was out of Los Pumas’ hands though the UAR does need to take responsibility. I recently urged the UAR to relax the overseas players rule. Australia and South Africa both have systems in place while Argentina must act too.
Questions remain as to who Hourcade would have selected if available. Juan Imhoff was named as being one of the three and he would have started all three November tests in the U.K. if available to Hourcade.
There is a debate as to whom the remaining two are. Marcos Ayerza and Mariano Galarza have circulated as the most likely candidates though Patricio Fernández is arguably more likely than the latter. Indeed, a month prior Santiago González Iglesias had started against Australia in the Rugby Championship. He is the 4th choice fly half for Los Jaguares.
Smarter management could have given Argentina a different ranking. This is undeniable. The UAR must now learn from their decisions and ensure this does not happen again.
Argentina join Japan, Georgia and Italy as the three lowest automatic qualifiers from England 2015. Having made the Semi Finals of that tournament Los Pumas are to be the team to avoid when the draw is made on May 10. This is little consolation for Argentina who face the prospect of a highly demanding path to the Quarter Finals in Japan.
As illustrated above Argentina will play against one of New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland in pool play. Los Pumas will also take-on one of Scotland, France, South Africa and Wales. The result is a far tougher pool than that of Rugby World Cup 2015.
In 2015 Argentina played New Zealand, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia. With all respect given to Tonga they are an easier project to negotiate than are Scotland, France, South Africa or Wales.
Looking at the prospective pool opponents the best scenario Argentina can arguably hope for is to be pooled with Ireland and Scotland. Such a possibility is far from ideal. It would be similar to Rugby World Cups 2003, 2007 and 2011. In all three tournaments Los Pumas found themselves in the most demanding groups. In 2007 and 2011 they reached the Quarter Finals, in 2011 only just.
The two remaining pool spots will be allocated to qualifiers. World Rugby is yet to confirm the hierarchy for 2019 though based on rankings it can be roughly determined who will be band 4 and 5. The winner of the Canada vs USA qualifiers will likely be Band 4 with Africa 1 being Band 5. Facing these two sides would arguably be Argentina’s easiest route through pool play.
The worst possible scenario is that Argentina would again be pooled with New Zealand. The other pre-qualified side could be Scotland, France, South Africa or Wales. Three of the four are improving. The one side currently struggling is South Africa. That said the odds of the Springboks having a year similar to that of 2016 again are extremely low.
Such a scenario could in fact get worse. The 10th ranked Fiji failed to qualify automatically. The possibility stands at 25% of Fiji joining Argentina in the pool of death. The remaining position could go to another Oceanian side in the form of Samoa or Tonga. A side arguably playing better than both is Romania. The Oaks could indeed complete the pool.
Should this scenario eventuate then it would be a tougher list than that of Rugby World Cup 2015’s pool of death. In 2015 Uruguay found itself back from the wilderness to play against Australia, England, Fiji and Wales.
Argentina now look to May 10 knowing they are in for a tough tournament in 2019. As disappointing as this is for the UAR and the players it is compounded further by being in Band C. This very fact means that Argentina cannot play against Japan in RWC 2019.
Also confirmed is that Argentina will not be pooled with Georgia. This very fact means Japan 2019 will be the first World Cup since 2003 without an Argentina vs Georgia pool fixture.