World Cup Preview: Argentina

Group B Opposition: England, Scotland, Georgia, Romania

Pedigree: The newest rugby superpower, and at this level, it has been at Ireland’s expense. Lyon in 1999 and Adelaide in 2003 were close, but we got panned in 2007. In that respect, we weren’t alone – France were beaten twice, and the extent of the Pumas’ quality in France was illustrated by the air of disappointment that surrounded them only finishing 3rd.

Players to watch: If a Martian landed on Earth and demanded to know what a prop forward was, WoC would put forward the redoubtable Rodrigo Roncero – always fun to watch and a master of the dark arts. Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe provide the class in the backrow, and Santiago Fernandez has been a revelation at Montpellier this year – we hope to see him re-produce his regular season form.  Meanwhile, Leinster fans may even get to see what Mariano Galarza actually does on a rugby pitch.

Good Tournament: Argentina are top seeds in this group, and will plan to beat England, then continue their hex on the French in the quarter-final and reach successive semi-finals.

Bad Tournament: Losing to the Scots, something of a bogey team for Argentina, and going home early.

Prospects: Argentina go into a tournament with respect, for the first time. Four years on from 2007, its hard to credit that virtually nobody had them coming through the group. In the event, they were one of the best teams in the competition, regretably freezing against the Boks.

To an extent, the objective is now different. In 2007, the team played with a controlled nationalistic fervour to show the world they meant business, and demanded to be seen as equals. This time around, the generals of 2007 (with the exception of Pichot and Hernandez) may still be there, but with a new generation being gradually infused, retrenchment is the order of the day. The lack of regular engagements precludes a definite judgement on where they stand, but they seem to be a level below four years ago.

The set-piece still bristles with menace and intent, and the two back-rows mentioned above are among the best around, but the backline isn’t quite together yet. In the halves, Dr Phil is a flaky 10 and Vergallo has yet to fulfil his promise. Ouside those two, its more perspiration than inspiration. As usual, European rugby sustains the Argentinian team and Bustos Moyano and Agulla have impressed since coming North, however, the aptly-named Marcelo Bosch is more typical of the approach. Also, its going to be interesting to see who kicks goals – while Contepomi wouldn’t be regarded as the best under pressure, Bustos Moyano scored 283 points for Montpellier, and nailed many a pressure kick.

The attritionary nature of this pool will suit Argentina’s pack, but having England first may be a disadvantage – last time out they improved as the tournament went on, and the leathering of France in the 3rd place playoff was the most complete display of any team. It’s likely to come down to a Scotland-Argentina showdown for second place here, and Scotland have the misfortune of being first up for the huge Georgians … just before they play the Pumas.

Verdict: Vigourous debate is ongoing at Cordite Towers. Firstly, we both agree that England should take them. Regarding second place, Palla Ovale points to Scotland’s impressive record against the Pumas (better than Ireland, France and England), whereas Egg Chaser sees a much stronger XV taking on a Scotland team harrowed by the Georgians (much like Ireland in 2007) and putting them out of their misery. Egg’s (slightly) greater conviction just carries the day, but NZ will whack and bag them in the quarters.