Sam Bowers of Oval Insights makes his case for los Pumas
The latter stages of 2022 showed that Argentina can beat any team, anywhere in the world.
They successfully navigated two of the most historically challenging propositions in rugby: beating New Zealand in New Zealand and beating England at Twickenham. Neither of these opponents would claim to have been in peak form in the last 12 months, but these feats were publicly lauded for a reason – because they are exceptional achievements for an international rugby team.
These results, perhaps more than any other test match outcomes of late, with Italy’s wins over Wales and Australia notable contenders, testify to the unprecedented competitiveness of contemporary international rugby. The unpredictability of the Test arena and a skewed Rugby World Cup draw make Argentina an outside bet for a place in the final in Paris.
Taking the World Rugby rankings as gospel, Argentina will come second in Pool D, under England, who are ranked sixth to los Pumas’ ninth. This will see them face Australia (the competing nation most likely to top their pool) in the first quarter-final of the World Cup. At this stage, the rankings would suggest that Michael Cheika’s men would bow out of the tournament.
However, recent form would suggest that Argentina are likely to progress to the semi-finals. They won their most recent match against Australia convincingly, putting 48 points on the Wallabies lately – their heaviest defeat of 2022. Of course, the Aussies under Eddie Jones are a totally unknown quantity and in said fixture, they were without talismans Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi, playing with James O’Connor at fly-half. However, neither side will have home advantage and Argentina look to be improving as opposed to the Wallabies’ stagnation. This is at worst a winnable fixture for Argentina and, dependent on the course of the Rugby Championship, at best an opportunity to down a familiar foe on the biggest stage.
Speaking of eminently winnable fixtures, English fans will approach their pool-stage contest against Argentina with trepidation.
Related: Argentina Rugby World Cup squad 2023
The benefits of Steve Borthwick’s stewardship are yet to be fully realised and, despite signs of improvement, there is every chance that the World Cup will just be too soon for England to be competitive. Argentina, with the associated benefits of a stable coaching group and the confidence from a maiden win at Twickenham, will fancy their chances of an upset in Pool D.
Should Argentina top the group, they will likely face Wales in the quarter-final, who are not only ranked below los Pumas, but are in the doldrums in this Six Nations and will be hard pushed to improve their performances without speedy resolution of their significant structural struggles. Argentina will make the quarter-final stage and play either Australia or Wales. Either way, chances are they progress to the next stage of the competition.
Beating Australia would see Argentina face Ireland in a World Cup semi-final. Alternatively, topping Pool D and beating Wales would pit them against France. Does this mean Argentina win Rugby World Cup 2023? Stick with me…
Les Bleus are ranked second in the world, but on the evidence of the Six Nations would be a significantly preferable opponent than a seemingly unstoppable Ireland team. This places huge emphasis on Argentina’s success in the group stages as a win against France, although unlikely, is far more conceivable than beating Ireland on current form. France seem unable to replicate the long periods of physical dominance they commanded in 2022, relying on their mercurial talents to create opportunities in attack rather than playing the more structured rugby we’ve seen from them in recent years.
Argentina are entirely capable of defending brilliant attackers, with the likes of Marcos Kremer – a truly destructive tackler and determined to the point of frenzy when playing against the best in the world – having proved their ability to contain world-class talents.
The fast-and-loose Gallic style of attack could really play into the Argentines’ hands in a highly-pressurised contest. Getting to the semi-final against France puts them an upset away from a place in the World Cup Final, and given the climate of international rugby, I wouldn’t bet against a headline of ‘Argentina win Rugby World Cup 2023’.
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