Frankie Deges reports on the latest from Argentina as Mario Ledesma takes charge of the Pumas
Mario Ledesma unveiled as new Argentina coach
Former Pumas hooker and Wallaby forwards coach Mario Ledesma has been announced as the new Argentina head coach in Buenos Aires following a successful first season in charge of the Jaguares in Super Rugby.
Ledesma will be able to select overseas-based players in his Test squad on a ‘need-to’ basis and is aiming to recall front-row players – Saracens prop Juan Figallo could be one of those.
Capped 84 times between 1996 and 2011, as well as playing in four World Cups and being arguably the best hooker at Wales 1999 and France 2007, Ledesma turned to coaching immediately after his last game against the All Blacks in Auckland in 2011, first with Michael Cheika at Stade Français, then with Montpellier. He later moved to Australia as consultant with the Waratahs and then took charge of the Wallaby pack, again linking up with Cheika.
He returned home after 18 years of living overseas at the end of last year to run Jaguares and took the team to the quarter-finals in his first Super Rugby season. Following the resignation of Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade at the end of the June Test window, Ledesma has now landed the top job and will face South Africa in the Rugby Championship in his first game in charge.
“The dream of every coach at any level is to coach the national team and I had this dream but never thought it would come so quickly. I had it in my mind and my heart and it is the biggest honour,” says Ledesma.
“Being the captain of this ship is an honour and not a pressure, knowing we can impact Argentine rugby and culturally our country.”
Related: The Rugby Championship referees
The big issue around the Pumas recently has been the availability of overseas-based players, with Hourcade restricted to picking only those based in Argentina. The Argentine Rugby Union Council is now allowing Ledesma to select players in extreme cases.
“We have given them a list of players that we need,” says Ledesma. “It is not news that we are short of front-rowers and when we are ready to make an announcement, we will do it, but at this moment in time it wouldn’t be good to throw names.”
With regards Nicolás Sánchez, who has signed for Stade Français but is under contract with the UAR until the end of the year, Ledesma says: “He will play for us after what has been probably his best season, but it opens an opportunity in the future to develop new players in that and other positions.”
A good speaker, Ledesma captivated an audience at the announcement as he explained his goals for Argentina, currently ranked tenth in the World Rugby Rankings.
Los Pumas will play against England in next year’s World Cup, playing in Pool C with France, Tonga and the USA.
Whilst he would not be drawn to talk about the tournament in 13 months’ time, he says: “We need to define urgent things ahead of the Rugby Championship and RWC will be the cherry on the top. Today we must work in defining our identity and setting up structures, but it is very clear that all of what we do from now on will be useful in preparing for Japan next year.
“It is very clear that our success will depend on how we work from now on to the World Cup.”
Cheika was a huge mentor for Ledesma, and the Pumas will meet Australia in rounds four and six of the Rugby Championship in coming weeks.
“The goal for Argentina will be to be competitive in every game and we will prepare to be able to be in the game; the challenge will be for all of us to step up and be ready.”
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.