(Photo: Getty Images)
By Brendan Gallagher
Patience is a virtue – as the Pumas discovered when they went through 30 phases at the death for their consolation try – and Argentina must somehow remember that and remain stoical and calm after a match in which nothing much went right.
It’s been a miserable year of consistent under-achievement but the Pumas must keep going for another fortnight yet and then have a re-think.
They never really threatened to win yesterday and didn’t deserve to nick a victory – not that deserving has anything to do with it – but bizarrely they could have departed Twickenham in triumph.
Instead they have now lost 16 consecutive games to Tier One opposition which is an appalling record for a team that has reached the semi-finals in two of the last three World Cups. Yes they do invariably dip between World Cups but this feels a bit ominous.
They squandered 14 points yesterday with uncharacteristically dodgy goal-kicking and were on the wrong end of just about every 50-50 call. Their no-arms tackles got penalised, England’s didn’t. The Pumas got told to play the ball when they were perfectly legitimately marching scrum possession forward, England didn’t.
It was all a bit odd and if they had won it could be dismissed with a wave of a hand but they lost yet again and there will be chuntering in the Pumas camp. As ever the referee made no attempt to communicate in anything other than loudly shouted English.
The Pumas also had grounds for complaint in the yellow card awarded against Joaquin Tuculet in the first half. First, Tuculet challenged for and touched the ball at exactly the same time as the unfortunate Mike Brown and secondly the Pumas full-back, travelling at speed, had in any case been pushed illegally by Anthony Watson which unbalanced him.
Pumas skipper Agustin Creevy went to some lengths to explain all this but was ignored. The fair call would have been a penalty to the Pumas for the Watson push which preceded everything else.
Meanwhile on an American Football pitch – the RFU for some reason had neglected to hide the markings from their money making NFL extravaganza two weeks ago – England really shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with Henry Slade’s forward pass which set Semesa Rokoduguni for a try, popular as that score was for a serving officer in HM Services on Armistice Day.
Slade knew from the off that it was forward, as did Nigel Owens 70 yards away on the opposite touchline. Of course the game wants to see tries but not at all costs or else it loses its integrity. Rugby should also reward those who know how to pass backwards under pressure; who can receive under pressure; who know how to stand back a little and time their runs better.
Our obsession with the flat ball – there is actually no such thing because a flat ball automatically goes forward – is allowing way too many dodgy tries to be awarded.
All the above provided mitigation and something to whinge about for Argentina but cannot be used as an excuse for another sterile display.
They have got themselves in a right mess at fly-half where they suddenly no longer trust Nicolas Sanchez and have rushed into service the once great but, alas, now too fallible, Juan Martin Hernandez. The latter was also given goal-kicking duties close in and missed two sitters.
Up front they had a plan to monster England, hence the selection of giant lock Marcos Kremer as one of the most unlikely opensides in modern history, and although their line-out remained impressive it didn’t really work.
Finding a natural seven has become the ‘holy grail’ for England and its a big stumbling block for the Pumas as well.
But the biggest problem for the Pumas is entirely self-inflicted. They really do need to re-assess their entire policy towards selecting players based overseas which currently states, if I follow it correctly, that they are ineligible except for the World Cup.
That simply isn’t viable going forward. Argentina, with their nationwide academies producing a conveyor belt of young talent, have a wealth of gifted players with international aspirations who are worthy of professional contracts, yet, to date, have just one outlet, the Jaguares who can employ 40-45 players.
It’s not enough. The Pumas could man three Super Rugby teams yet keep getting fobbed of with promises that the tournament will expand one day soon to accommodate them. I doubt very much if that will ever happen.
The best of the aspirants need to be let loose on the market place, which effectively means the T14 and Premiership, to hone their skills and learn a host of rugby lessons and techniques which they could then bring back into the Pumas camp.
That’s where Mario Ledesma, Maurice Reggiardo, Patricio Albacete, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Hernandez and Gus Pichot honed their skills. That wanderlust and kleptomania, that greedy acquisition and morphing of skills, was at the heart of everything.
It became part of the DNA of a savvy independently-minded rugby team that learned how to perform under pressure
At present there are no new ideas and rugby experiences coming into the Pumas camp, it’s all a bit stale and ‘groundhog day’ as first the Jaguares trek around the globe and then the very same players clock up more airmiles in Pumas colours. Argentinian rugby needs to reboot.
The November Test window is set in stone and the same for everybody – they could pick their European-based players if they wanted – and although there might be availability problems with some of the players early every summer it is a price well worth paying.
They are currently depriving themselves of the services of Fecundo Isa, Marcello Bosch, Juan Imhoff and Juan Figallo to name four of the bigger names starring in Europe, while others are performing well. Why would you do that?
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