Our State of the Nation series aims to give you the low-down on the world’s top nations ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015. This time, we take a look at Los Pumas. Could they spring a surprise just as they did in 2007…and will they be allowed to?
Argument: The first Rugby World Cup game this blogger went to was the opening match of the 1999 edition. That was Wales v Argentina. In those days, Argentina had the capability to be a thorn in the side of any major nation but they themselves were very much regarded as a Tier 2 nation (i.e outside the traditional powerhouses of Western Europe and SANZAR). Fast forward to today and Argentina are an established nation at the top-table of rugby. They now face regular, tier one action in the form of The Rugby Championship and, although they have been rooted in the bottom half of the table each year, they’ve notched up notable wins against Australia and (more significantly) the Springboks in South Africa. Next year, the first Argentinian Super Rugby franchise will launch and a raft of star names are heading back home to join it, away from those European clubs who have been their main employers over the last decade. It’s quite a turnaround, but how did it happen? The answer to that question could take up an entire blog post of its own, but one crucial element has been the tenacity of the Argentinians to prove themselves on the international stage. The 2007 tournament was the culmination of that effort: the year when the Pumas finally announced themselves as major players with a third-place finish, notching up two wins against hosts France in the process. They are the guiding lights for today’s tier two countries knocking on the door of that exclusive tier one club – the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Georgia.
But with success comes expectation and Argentina are a side who, since the heights 2007, have not exceeded that expectation. Yes they qualified (along with England) for the 2011 quarter-finals but they were favourites to do so in a pool that also contained Georgia, Romania and a poor Scotland side. Even so, they qualified the hard way, scraping home 13-12 against the Scots. They could (and probably should have) won the group against an out-of-sorts England but they succumbed 13-9. They were then duly despatched by New Zealand in the knock-outs 33-10…as expected, but nothing more. In the four years since, the Pumas have struggled to exceed what is now expected of them. Highlights in the last four years have included a win at home against France and victory away to Wales in 2012, a first home win against Australia in 2014 swiftly followed by a win in Paris and, of course THAT win in Durban earlier this year. But those five games aside, it could be argued that Argentina were expected to win those they won and lose those they lost. Furthermore, some of the losses in that time have been below the standard expected (the home loss against Scotland and two in a row against England during Lions year in particular).
So how can the men in light blue and white hoops exceed expectations this time around. The obvious solution is to beat New Zealand at Wembley in their first game of the tournament. That is [MAJOR UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT] easier said than done. The All Blacks may well be undercooked going into the event but such an accusation could also be leveled at the Pumas themselves: they last played in mid-August. The rest of the group looks like a walk in the park, and the Argentinians will be expected to beat Tonga, Georgia and lowly-ranked Namibia. The big chance for an upset therefore could come in the quarter-finals where they are likely to play either France or Ireland. Win that one, and a semi-final against one of the tournament big-boys could prove to be the stage for the greatest victory yet…but only time will tell.
Verdict: Argentina could well spring a surprise in this World Cup but will have to wait till the quarter-finals to do it. Will they be ready after a less than tough pool? We expect not.