Mario Ledesma spearheaded a golden generation that catapulted Argentinian rugby into the global consciousness. Once the beating heart of the Puma pack, Ledesma is one of the greatest hookers of all time
Major teams: Curupatyi, Narbonne, Castres, Clermont
Test span: 1996-2011
Argentina caps: 84 (67 starts)
Test points: 15 (3 tries)
Wallaby prop Sekope Kepu might seem an odd choice to present a shrewd depiction of Mario Ledesma’s character, not least because he was only ten when the Argentinian made his Test debut against Uruguay in 1996.
However, in describing the nature of Ledesma’s set-piece sessions with the Waratahs – where the former Puma acted as a consultant coach under Michael Cheika – Kepu encapsulates the passion and enthusiasm that filled his mentor’s blue and white jersey.
“At training we have one-minute scrums. He’s crawling in and out underneath us. We’re thinking, ‘Geez, if this comes down, you’re crushed.’ But that’s the trust he’s instilled in us.”
You could argue that Ledesma’s faith in the stability of an Australia scrum may be misplaced. However, what was undeniable during the hooker’s playing days was similarly unreserved commitment.
‘Super Mario’ earned his charming nickname with a remarkable World Cup record, playing in 18 matches at four tournaments between 1999 and his retirement in 2011. His career also took him to the Top 14 and he started for Clermont in the successful final of 2010, still les Jaunards’ sole league title.
One of many natural leaders in his generation – he captained the side against Japan on just his 15th cap – Ledesma was often seen with tears pouring down his cheeks during the national anthem.
In fact, such emotion became a hallmark of the 2007 World Cup, where Argentina beat hosts France, Ireland and Scotland before succumbing in the semi-final to South Africa.
Four years later, another knockout defeat to eventual champions – New Zealand triumphing 33-10 in the quarter-final – signalled Ledesma’s last appearance. His 84 Tests make him Argentina’s most capped hooker and fourth most capped Puma overall.
Making way for Agustin Creevy at Eden Park, Ledesma began to cry. There was almost certainly a streak of sadness, but phenomenal pride too.