AUDIO: Reason behind Argentina's struggles against Boks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: While every national side has been hit hard by the global pandemic, it’s perhaps Argentina who have taken the biggest knock of the tier-one nations.
The dissolution of the Jaguares marked the end of their only local high-performance representative side.
A Jaguares XV will continue to take part in the Super Liga Americana de Rugby but the vast majority of Argentina’s top players have now linked up with various European sides, as was the case prior to the introduction of the Jaguares to Super Rugby in 2016.
Instead of being able to forge strong relationships throughout the season, Argentina’s best now have just the international season to build combinations, in a similar vein to the Pacific Island teams and other nations without their own top-flight club competitions.
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Last year, the cancellation of Super Rugby after just a handful of rounds meant the Jaguares had little time together as a team, but it also allowed Argentina to assemble as a squad well ahead of schedule and the work they did in the lead-up to the Tri-Nations paid dividends, with Los Pumas scoring an historic win over the All Blacks and went undefeated against the Wallabies.
In 2021, however, they’ve not had that same luxury as their players have been scattered around the world. As such, time together as a squad was limited in the build-up to their July tests against Romania and Wales, and while they’ve now spent some weeks in camp together, the sheer variety of teams individual players now represent globally means it will take some time for Los Pumas to rebuild their combinations and understanding as a team.
That, however, isn’t why Argentina struggled against South Africa in the opening two rounds of this year’s Rugby Championship competition, according to former All Blacks scrumhalf James Parsons.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons suggested that the Pumas showed some of their famously exciting brand of rugby against the Springboks, but that the South African side were simply better drilled than their South American opposition.
“If you watch that 75th minute to the 85th, that’s the Argentinian team that we know and love,” Parsons said of the second test, which the Springboks won 29-10.
“They’ll chance their arm with offloads. They’re still one of the best sides in the world from unstructured play.
“But a lot of time on the weekend, when they got in behind the South African D, the Springboks are just so good over the ball and if there’s a separation between the ball-carrier and the cleaner, even Cheslin Kolbe got over for one [steal]. He’s not the biggest frame but he got over and got a turnover in the 49th minute after some good play from the Argie side.”
Parsons added that any team would struggle to match a top side when they were on the receiving end of so many blown whistles, with the Pumas ultimately conceding 21 penalties (and two yellow cards) to the Springboks’ 11.
“I think they’ve still got their blueprint of what to play but they just struggle, I suppose, with the set-piece more than anything, and to get their game going,” he said.
“And then obviously the pressure from the penalties, we spoke about it from the All Blacks’ point of view with the Wallabies in that last 20 from the first test, it just mounts.
“Although they held on in that first half, they had to make a hell of a lot of tackles. I think it was 13-5 penalties [in the first 40 minutes], so they were constantly on D. They’re passionate and they’ll keep turning up, there’s no question of that, but eventually the energy tank gets sapped when you’re on D for that long.”
Parsons paid further tribute to the Springboks, suggesting that the result had less to do with any glaring flaws in the Argentina side and more to do with the strength of South Africa at present.
“We have to give credit to the way the Springboks are playing,” he said. “They’ve got a blueprint of the way they want to play and they just execute it really well. It doesn’t matter what 23 they put out there at the moment, they’ve got such good depth. They’ve got guys getting opportunities each week and I can’t remember the last time I saw Malcolm Marx start and I thought he was player of the day, he was exceptional.
“I don’t want to flip the Argentinian question onto the Springboks but a lot of what [Los Pumas] tried to do was nullified by the Springboks and their defensive set-up and their ability in and around that breakdown and then their patience on attack.”
Parsons concluded by quashing some of the recent commentary that the Springboks are playing ‘boring’ rugby.
“They’re one of the best [tactically], if they don’t get any go-forward they’ll put it on the boot,” he said.
“A lot of their kicks were attacking kicks so they’re genuinely trying to get the ball back and playing a style that’s acceptable from where I sit.”
With the Springboks also winning the first test between the two sides, 32-12, they now sit atop the Rugby Championship log while Los Pumas hold fourth spot. Both sides have two weeks off without matches before the Springboks will take on the Wallabies and Los Pumas will do battle with the All Blacks in the first double-header of this year’s Rugby Championship.