Whilst many nations in South America are still finding their feet on the international rugby stage, Argentina have long been established as one of the strongest sides in the world and are always seen as one of the sport’s powerhouses. Having appeared at every edition of the Rugby World Cup since its inception, and having reached the semi-finals in 2015 and secured a bronze medal back in 2007, there is no doubt that they do have it in them to go deep into the competition and to give a number of sides things to be concerned about.
There are two things that have helped Los Pumas to keep honing their craft as the years have gone by, with one being their squad spreading out around some of the best leagues in the domestic game, allowing them to gain exposure to different tactical ideas and to take part in some of the highest profile matches in the game, and the other being that they have been a part of the Rugby Championship since 2012 and compete on an annual basis against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, providing high-level tests and ensuring that they can quickly find and fix any problem areas and keep developing their game plan.
Following the departure of long-serving head coach Mario Ledesma last year, Argentina have been under the stewardship of former Australia boss Michael Cheika, who had been an advisor in Ledesma’s team before taking charge.
His tenure is only a short-term thing though, with Cheika and the board agreeing that he would step down after the World Cup and that assistant Felipe Contepomi, who was appointed alongside him last year, would then take the reins.
Tactically, Cheika has come under criticism in his career for not giving his teams a well-rounded game plan, but what he does offer is the ability to incite heart, belief and accuracy to their play, and there is no doubt that his ability to organise sides with some efficiency will make Los Pumas a tough obstacle to negotiate when the action does get underway.
In attack, Argentina have focused heavily on winning set piece situations and ensuring that they don’t give their opponents easy ways to apply pressure, and it was clear in his first few months in charge just how much work Cheika had done on their scrums, lineouts and other dead ball situations as he tried to give them an edge in that aspect of the game.
In this year’s meeting with Australia during the Rugby Championship, the Wallabies in particular struggled to deal with them once the ball went dead, so it is something that opponents should limit if they want to contain Los Pumas’ ability to control possession.
The other thing to expect when Argentina have the ball is that they will make intelligent box kicks and will then look to control the areas where the ball comes down, with them putting a high emphasis on setting up contestable kicks and making sure that they win them, and it is likely that they will use them both as a way of relieving pressure and to create chances to run behind their opponents and make significant territorial gains.
Since bringing David Kidwell onto the coaching staff to lead on the defensive side of things, Argentina’s style without the ball has tended to revolve around players having the ability to make key decisions and to know when it is the right time to tackle and when they need to hold back and ensure that they have a solid shape that will prevent an opponent from breaking them down.
As a result, in situations where they might have previously been caught out by players going into rucks unnecessarily, there is now a lot more discipline and tactical structure to the way that Argentina defend, and it has played a key role in making them harder to beat and giving their attack something to build on.
With the calibre of opponents that they will be coming up against in France, it will be essential that they get this side of the game right and make correct decisions, because not doing so will give their opponents easy opportunities to break them down and could lead to them skipping vast quantities of points.
When looking at Argentina’s World Cup squad, it is clear that they are littered with quality and talent and will be a very tough side to beat overall, with Agustín Creevy still a difficult player to stop in the front line, Mateo Carreras always a tricky winger with an eye for the try line and Thomas Gallo a prop with a big future ahead of him.
However, if they are to make the most of their opportunities and to ensure that their hard work in open play is rewarded, then they will be relying on players like Emiliano Boffelli to secure points for them, both with his intelligent runs in the wide channels and with his boot from the tee.
There are other kickers in the side, such as Santiago Carrerras, but Boffelli is undoubtedly the first choice when they do have chances to rack up the points, and his calm demeanour and accuracy under pressure will make him a vital component of this Argentina side.
Given that they are considered to be one of the world’s strongest rugby nations, Argentina would be very disappointed to exit the World Cup too early, and they will harbour aspirations of reaching at least the semi-finals.
With France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa all on the other side of the draw, getting to the final four would be a commendable and very attainable achievement for Los Pumas, even if it would not see them improve on their previous best record at the World Cup, and there is a chance that they could go even further if things went their way.