England's Test Series win in Argentina in 2013 was feted but two years later, it's the Pumas who are being applauded around the rugby world
By Adam Hathaway
Back in the summer of 2013 those of us not involved in the hoopla surrounding the British & Lions tour to Australia ventured to Argentina to see England take on the Pumas in their own back yard. England, who did have a few Lions Down Under and rested a few biggish names from the trip to South America, won the series comfortably 2-0, with a 32-3 win in Salta and a 51-26 win in Buenos Aires, and all was good in the world of the England Rugby.
We got the normal platitudes about Argentina, you know the ones, it is always a tough place to come and play and that England vintage were the first from Twickenham to win a series out there 2-0 – even the sides captained by Bill Beaumont and Will Carling couldn’t manage that, don’t you know.
We all look a bit stupid now, when you look at the team sheets for those two games with the benefit of hindsight.
Argentina’s biggest game since the semi-final in 2007 was the semi-final against Australia last weekend and guess how many of the starting line-up at Twickenham on Sunday started in either of those Test matches two years’ ago.
One and, for the trivia buffs, he was the scrum-half Martin Landajo who was the first-choice number nine in the opening international on England’s most successful tour since they beat New Zealand and Australia on consecutive weekends in 2003.
When we went to Argentina everyone knew the hosts would be fielding a weakened side – their French-based players were held back for the Rugby Championship – so I wonder why the RFU were doing handstands when their boys knocked out the series win.
As we now know, the Pumas got further in the current World Cup than all of the home-based nations and went significantly deeper than England, whose players were back at their clubs before the fanzone in Trafalgar Square had opened its doors.
We don’t know what is going on with England but in terms of 2019, whatever happens to the Pumas in the third place play-off on Friday, the rest of the world had better watch out.
Traditional forward strength and a new-found willingness to run the ball all add up to a dangerous combination. Graft on some rugby nous and a will to stop trying to play in the shadow of their own posts and the Argentinians could be onto something really big in four years’ time. Chuck in another few seasons in the Rugby Championship – it has already been noted they were lucky to avoid being dragged into the Six Nations – and the Pumas could prove to be a genuine force for years to come.
Another factor is that most of their big names have already signed on the dotted line to play in the Super Rugby franchise, based in Buenos Aires, which will play in the competition next year. That gives the Pumas some structure, much like New Zealand.
If Steve Hansen wants to give Richie McCaw a few weeks off he can tell the Crusaders to give him a few weeks off. If Hansen wants to have a look at a Kiwi playing in a different position, he can tell his club bosses to play him in a different position.
That boat sailed far into the distance for England when they gave all the power to the clubs and did not get involved in centrally contracting players with the best interests of the national side at heart.
It has not sailed for Argentina. They are in the pesos seats now and it does not take Nostradamus to work out they will be serious contenders in the next World Cup.
Whose boots would you rather be in? An England coach, whoever that might be, who wants a rugby league convert to play in a different numbered shirt to the one his club wants him to wear, or an Argentinian boss who, frankly, can do what he wants.
These Pumas have been big in England over the last seven weeks – they will be even bigger in Japan.
A cuddly toy for those who managed to name the seven England players who started in Buenos Aires in 2013, and against Australia at Twickenham on 3 October this year. For the record…… they are Mike Brown, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph, Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood and Ben Morgan.