Pumas focus on growth

Argentina coach Santiago Phelan hopes his team’s participation in the Rugby Championship will improve their standard of play.

What’s expected of the Argentina this season? Realistically?

A more accurate estimation will be made after their opening home Test against the Springboks in Mendoza on Saturday, but during a recent chat with Phelan, he indicated that results won’t be the key objective during their opening run in the Rugby Championship.

‘Our main goal is to increase our rugby growth,’ Phelan told keo.co.za. ‘We are effectively playing against the top three sides in the world, so this will be a big challenge for us. Especially during our tour to Australia and New Zealand, which will be something new.

‘But we will become better with this experience and will hopefully improve week by week.’

Phelan added that he was satisfied with his team’s performance against the Springboks in their tournament opener at Newlands, despite going down 27-6.

‘I think most of the points we conceded in the first half came from our own mistakes. If we can pick up on our discipline and work on our individual errors, we will be more competitive in Mendoza.’

The focus on growth rather than results this season is fair.

The Pumas will aim to be competitive, but securing victory against the strongest nations on the international scene will be a tough ask. You can expect the Argentines to be errant, but their standards will improve and their players will learn valuable lessons.

The progress they’re set to make should be more effective, compared to the steps Italy have made since their debut in the Six Nations.

Italy, who are currently ranked 11th, made their debut in the northern hemisphere’s premier Test tournament in 2000, but they still struggle against the world’s elite 12 years later. Argentina, currently ranked eighth, have shown great potential, despite their absence from a premier Test competition.

Their third-place finish at the 2007 World Cup will be remembered as their greatest achievement. They also did well to progress to the knockout rounds of the 2011 World Cup as their group included England and Scotland.

And it must be noted that this was achieved under difficult circumstances.

The South American’s best players are all based in Europe, and the team hardly spends enough time together because of their club commitments.

These issues will also affect the Pumas during the Rugby Championship, as their European-based players will only be available for the opening six rounds. They are also without top points-scorer and star back Felipe Contepomi, who decided to play in the June Tests against France before returning to Stade Francais.

A formal solution hasn’t been announced yet by the UAR, as most of the hype has been focused on Argentina’s introduction into the Rugby Championship.

Pundits believe more of Argentina’s best players should feature in Super Rugby, which could be a win-win situation. The Argentina U20s finished fourth in the Junior World Championship and the Argentina Jaguars (their second stringers) have done well in the IRB Nations Cup, which indicates that there is strong talent coming through the ranks. How the UAR approaches this will be important.

If Argentina can solve their issues off the field and continue to learn during the Rugby Championship, there’s so much potential to fulfill in the coming years.

By Gareth Duncan