Three matches into the 2017 Rugby Championship and Argentina are still chasing a victory. The 0-3 record is of grave concern though there are signs that this team could yet surprise a lot of people and pull off a win.
The 39-22 loss to New Zealand was not a team being outperformed like had been the case against the Springboks. The half-time score-lines of 13-5 in Port Elizabeth and 17-10 in Salta were flattering. On both occasions Argentina was outclassed.
In New Plymouth on Saturday Los Pumas dramatically lifted their performance. Writing for La Nacion, Fernando Vergara noted that:
in playing their best game of the year, Argentina was not able to hold back the New Zealanders’ rhythm.
While Los Pumas were unfortunate to fall against England in San Juan the visitors were deserved winners by a clean margin in game two in Santa Fé. Also in June, Argentina faced Georgia in Jujuy. It was a victory though Los Pumas were exposed at the scrum and breakdown.
In all these matches there were many players who performances were scrutinized. Widespread criticism was worse following the losses against South Africa. It was simply very hard to identify Pumas players who had outplayed their opponent.
Against New Zealand this was not the case. More importantly the match had a number of talking points which will help clarify upcoming activity for Argentina. This is true both for next Saturday’s match against Australia and also with a view to Japan 2019.
Five talking points of Los Pumas’ performance are as follows:
Agustín Creevy Delivered
Captain, Agustín Creevy had a fantastic match. His opponent, Dane Coles, is considered by many as the world’s best hooker. Creevy, though, was the better performer in New Plymouth. His ability to win turn-overs returned to be a hallmark of his game. Creevy was also excellent both as a ball-carrier and a defender. With ball in hand he sent Israel Dagg flying backwards and broke through tackles. On defense he was able to sent All Blacks’ ball-carriers back behind the advantage line.
Tomás Cubelli is Argentina’s Best Scrum-Half
Gonzalo Bertranou is the third choice scrum-half behind both but who is better: Martín Landajo or Tomás Cubelli? This debate is, in my eyes, now officially over. Landajo played well against England and South Africa this year but Cubelli’s performance against New Zealand was clearly on another level altogether. He gave Argentina many more options than Landajo had been able to do in prior matches. He also had the forwards significantly better organized more defensively and in attack.
Emiliano Boffelli Is Already a Star
Emiliano Boffelli had few opportunities in attack but did threaten. He came close to scoring early in the second half. But it was Boffelli’s all-round performance which stood out. He was reliable under the high ball, tackled well and supported smartly. His goal-kicking was impressive with him earning the reputation of having a cannon-boot. His two long-range penalties underline his star power but it does not end there. A notable moment was his 70m clearing kicking from inside his 22 in the first half. It was long and precise. Come Japan 2019 do not be surprised to see Boffelli playing in the mid-field.
Benjamín Macome Produces Best Pumas No 8 Performance of 2017
For once there is no post match debating as to why Facundo Isa is not in the team. Benjamín Macome is the third No 8 in as many matches for Argentina but is now looking like the right man for the position. Leonardo Senatore and Juan Manuel Leguizamón no longer have the pace that they once did. Both were noticeably unable to get over the advantage line against the Springboks. Against the All Blacks Macome made a clean break from a scrum and carried well in general. He was also strong on defense. In other words he did his job very well.
Where was Javier Ortega Desio?
Javier Ortega Desio is no Corcho Fernández Lobbe. This is no secret. He is a vastly different player yet with him wearing the Pumas 7 shirt there is naturally going to be comparisons. Curiously they are both 1.93m (6 ft 4 in) tall. Corcho was a great leader but what made Corcho so important for Argentina was his ability to read play. Being at the right place when required was his trademark. In New Plymouth Desio Ortega did not perform well. He made just two carries, needlessly knocked-on from a kick-off that did not go 10 meters and knocked-on twice from Pumas line-outs.