Pumas unveil their new captain
NOVEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Pablo Matera will debut as Argentina captain on a challenging tour of Europe that kicks off Saturday with a Test against second-ranked Ireland in Dublin.
The unpredictable Pumas then face France in Lille and Scotland at Murrayfield, nations higher in the world rankings than the ninth-place tourists.
A match against the Barbarians at Twickenham concludes the last visit to Europe by the South Americans before the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Argentina won two Rugby Championship matches for the first time this year, but lost to Australia in the final round after throwing away a 24-point half-time advantage.
They changed coaches in mid-year with Daniel Hourcade resigning after home losses to weakened Wales and Scotland sides and was replaced by former Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma.
Now the task of skippering the side has changed hands too with 25-year-old flanker Matera succeeding hooker Agustin Creevy.
“I discussed with my staff who is best suited to lead Argentina going forward and Pablo kept being mentioned,” said Ledesma.
“Pablo is a new voice and the best leader to take us where we want to go. He transmits his energy and intensity very well to the rest of the team.
“This is a good time for him to take the leadership role. He has already won 55 caps and is at the right age.
“He reminds me of several captains that I knew, including Michael Hooper of Australia, in the way he has grown as a player.”
Ledesma also lavished praise on 33-year-old Creevy, who is widely considered to be among the best hookers in the world.
“In no way is the change of captaincy a suggestion that Agustin failed. He has been a great leader and I thank him for the support he has given Pablo.
“He will play a key role going forward, helping the new skipper settle in and offering valuable advice.
“We are not going to do without Agustin. He is also a leader, our number one hooker, and one of the best in that position in the world.”
Matera was a natural choice having replaced Creevy as captain of the Jaguares this year and he led the Buenos Aires outfit to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time.
“My promotion to captain of the national team caught me by surprise,” he admitted before the 31-man squad left Argentina for Ireland.
“I am understandably nervous and the presence of Agustin has been a great comfort. I am happy for the opportunity and the challenge of leading the Pumas.”
His first challenge could hardly be tougher with Ireland ranked behind only three-time world champions New Zealand.
The Irish demonstrated their strength in depth by resting a number of key players at the weekend and still hammering Italy 54-7 in a one-off Test in Chicago.
Argentina has lost all eight internationals in Ireland with the most recent a 28-19 defeat at a freezing Dublin last November.
“We trailed by 20 points at one stage and the situation looked bad, but the team fought back only to find the gap too wide,” recalled Matera.
The Pumas have fared slightly better in France, winning five of 17 Tests, with one of the successes coming in the 2007 World Cup third-place play-off against the hosts.
Scotland has proved a relatively happy hunting ground for the South Americans with four wins and three losses, but the Pumas crumbled 44-15 against them in Resistencia last June.
When Ledesma trimmed a 38-man provisional squad he omitted Stade Francais prop Ramiro Herrera, the only player based outside Argentina.
Star flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, the leading points scorer at the 2015 World Cup in England, is set to join Herrera at the Paris club.
Other exciting backline players include full-back Emiliano Boffelli and wingers Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano.
The major problem for the pack has been the scrums, with some back-pedalling at the set-piece humiliating for a country with a history of great scrummagers like Ledesma.
Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Agustin Creevy, Santiago Garcia Botta, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Tomas Lavanini, Tomas Lezana, Pablo Matera (capt), Santiago Medrano, Julian Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti, Lucio Sordoni, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss
Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastian Cancelliere, Santiago Carreras, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Bautista Delguy, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Bautista Ezcurra, Martin Landajo, Juan Cruz Mallia, Matias Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matias Orlando, Nicolas Sánchez