Argentina’s record since joining the Rugby Championship makes for grim reading.
Won three, drawn one, lost 29 – the Pumas have fallen some way short of justifying their inclusion since muscling in on the well-established Tri Nations competition in 2012.
After one victory in each of 2014, 2015 and 2016, Argentina took an unwelcome step backwards last year by drawing a blank, soundly beaten in each of their six matches.
But there will be fresh optimism this year that the South Americans can finally make their mark on the championship, despite a run of just two wins in 17 matches.
KICK-OFF: 2018 Rugby Championship Round #1
Only 5 days until TRC gets underway @qantaswallabies v @AllBlacks & @Springboks v @lospumas
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The Jaguares side formed to join Super Rugby in 2016 have made steady progress in their three years in the competition, reaching the qualifiers for the first time last season after 13th- and 10th-placed finishes in the previous two campaigns.
Their impressive season featured consecutive away victories over the Rebels, the Brumbies, the Blues and the Chiefs, before being beaten by eventual finalists the Lions in the first play-off round.
Most of the squad who turned Jaguares into the season’s surprise package will be involved over the coming weeks and, perhaps most encouragingly, so will their coach.
Back-to-back defeats to Wales and a loss to Scotland on home soil in June signalled the end of Daniel Hourcade’s five-year stint at the helm, and the strongest contender to replace him was clear.
Mario Ledesma – the man who masterminded Jaguares’ 2018 campaign – was installed to transfer Super Rugby success to the international stage.
— Los Pumas (@lospumas) August 1, 2018
The former Clermont hooker won 84 caps during his playing career and will need no introduction to the national squad, with his first selection containing 28 of his former Jaguares charges.
Ledesma has additionally requested permission to call on European-based players – a move that will open the door for the likes of Saracens prop Juan Figallo to join up with the squad and broaden the pool of talent at his disposal in the build-up to next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Rassie Erasmus, whose Springboks host Argentina on the opening weekend, is all too aware of the impact Ledesma could have on his side.
“Mario is definitely going to give this Argentina side new energy,” he said. “With the Jaguares, he went five or six games on the trot unbeaten under difficult circumstances in New Zealand and Australia and then beat all of our franchises.
“They have beaten us here before and they will be sitting back and enjoying the underdog tag but luckily we know that they are formidable, and we have seen what they have done to our Super Rugby teams and the New Zealand and Australian teams.”
Argentina’s addition to the Rugby Championship came following their third-placed finish at the 2007 World Cup and, while they reached the semi-finals once more in 2015, their development as a consistent tier-one nation has stalled somewhat.
But the improving fortunes of Jaguares, coupled with the appointment of Ledesma, hint at a brighter future for the Pumas and the potential for a Rugby Championship upset or two over the coming weeks.
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