Preview: Argentina v Wales
JUNE INTERNATIONALS: The Jaguares became Pumas this week and Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade hopes they can take stunning Super Rugby form into two Tests against Wales, the first on Saturday.
Jaguares, effectively the national team, compete out of Buenos Aires in the annual Southern Hemisphere franchise competition and their recent form has been a revelation.
After only two victories in their first seven matches, they have won six in a row, including a shock triumph in New Zealand over two-time Super Rugby champion Chiefs.
When Super Rugby took a break to accommodate Test rugby, Hourcade called up all 23 Jaguares who helped defeat the South African Sharks to the national squad, known as the Pumas.
Hourcade is desperate for success after two horror international seasons following an impressive fourth place at the 2015 World Cup in England.
Argentina was beaten nine times in 13 Tests during 2016 and fared even worse last season, losing 10 of 12
Two of the six victories came against Italy, the weakest Six Nations side and others were achieved over minnows Japan and Georgia.
Even the wins over stronger South Africa and France had a hollow ring, as the two countries were experiencing difficult times that eventually cost both national coaches their jobs.
But as the Pumas prepared for Tests against the Dragons in San Juan this Saturday and Santa Fe seven days later, Hourcade wore a broad smile.
“The boys arrived for our training camp in magnificent condition,” he told the Argentine media.
“They are in very good shape.
“They have won six consecutive Super Rugby matches and are in great mental and physical condition.
“We want to take advantage of this winning culture by beating Wales twice and Scotland during June.”
Jaguares’ turnaround this year after two Super Rugby seasons in which they made little impact is due to various factors.
New coach and former Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma has married forward power with exciting running and, vitally, improved discipline.
Yellow and red cards have cost the Jaguares and Pumas dearly in the past with frustrated Argentines often committing offences in full view of match officials.
Handling skills among forwards and backs have also improved dramatically with a considerable reduction in knock-ons.
Wing Bautista Delguy, who has scored eight tries in Super Rugby, is the only uncapped player in the first Test line-up.
Injured fullback Joaquin Tuculet will be sorely missed, but fly-half Nicolas Sanchez is a potential match-winner thanks to his flair and goal-kicking.
Wales arrived in Argentina after snatching a 22-20 victory over South Africa last Saturday in a scrappy, error-strewn Washington battle of attrition.
New Zealand-born coach Warren Gatland says he is on a mission of discovery, which explains why he made eight personnel changes and one positional one for the San Juan Test.
“There are about 10 players who did not come with us and if their form is good enough, they will probably make the World Cup squad next year,” he said.
“However, we must guard against complacency. I want the players resting at home to know that those here in Argentina are also fighting for places on the flight to Japan.
“We are facing a couple of tough Tests, especially with the Jaguares doing so well in Super Rugby.”
Co-captain and lock Cory Hill will lead the team instead of Ellis Jenkins, the skipper in Washington who will watch from the grandstand this time around.
Rhys Patchell (flyhalf) and Gareth Davies (scrumhalf) form a new halfback combination, while 74-cap George North switches from outside centre to the left wing
Players to watch:
For Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli has been sensational in Super Rugby and will be a handful for the Welsh defenders. The other dangerous backs are Jeronimo de le Fuente, Nicolas Sanchez and Gonzalo Bertranou. The world-class quality among the forwards is just as well spread – Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera, Guido Petti and Agustin Creevy.
For Wales: Almost all the players will be in the spotlight, as they are playing for World Cup places. However, inside centre Hadleigh Parkes, veteran wing George North and flyhalf Rhys Patchell are the key playmakers.
Head to head: Two of the game’s most exciting fullbacks – Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina) versus Hallam Amos (Wales) – will provide great entertainment value. The key backline battle is at flyhalf – Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina) versus Rhys Patchell (Wales).
2016: Wales won 24-20, Cardiff
2013: Wales won 40-6, Cardiff
2012: Argentina won 26-12, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 28-13, Cardiff
2009: Wales won 33-16, Cardiff
2007: Wales won 27-20, Cardiff
2006: Argentina won 45-27, Buenos Aires
2006: Argentina 27-25 won, Puerto Madryn
Prediction: Wales can win, but don’t put your house on it. Argentina is the fancied team and they should win by 12 points.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Javier Diaz, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Wales: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 James Davies, 6 Seb Davies, 5 Cory Hill (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin.
Date: Saturday, June 9
Venue: Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario, San Juan
Kick-off: 16.40 local (20.40 UK time; 19.40 GMT)
Expected weather: Periods of clouds and sun. High of 21°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
@rugby365 & AFP