By Alan Dymock
ROCK STARS often talk of the difficult second album, where all the natural vim and creative chaos that bore out a fantastical and well-received first piece of work is hard to recreate, leading to a contrived and shoddy effort the second time around.
For the rock solid Pumas of Argentina, though, their bustle and ability to thrive in disorder of their own creation is what they have relied upon for years. So heading into their second year in the Rugby Championship it will be interesting to see if they court chaos or approach the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses with more of a restrained plan.
The pride of South America begin their Championship away to South Africa on August 17, and prepare for that by playing fixtures against a NSW Barbarians side (almost entirely made up of Waratahs). They have already played them once in Buenos Aires, winning 29-27 at the weekend, and face them again in La Plata on Friday.
After the first game, which was a nip and tuck affair where a try in extra time sealed the result for Argentina, Los Pumas boss Santiago Phelan said: “We have time to prepare and that does not happen in the tournament. We are building and giving continuity to what we did last year,” and: “We did not choose to kick [at the] sticks for the win, but to play a game seriously and to look after the physical. The result is anecdotal, beyond that you always want to have a good result. The goal was to play as close to what will be in the Rugby Championship.”
Looking after the physical side is good, as bombarding the other Championship sides looks like the only way Argentina will compete. However, the tactic of shrugging off penalty kicks is something that will undoubtedly disappear as the crush of the Championship comes on.
Leaders like Juan Martin Fernadez Lobbe, Marcos Ayerza, Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Imhoff and Marcelo Bosch know that scoring chances – any scoring chances – will be hard won and rarely seen and so wherever there is a possibility to take points the Pumas should take them. The second season will be harder than the first and with players like Felipe Contepomi refusing to retire just yet for fear of Argentine embarrassment in this competition it is clear that they still see themselves up against it.
Playing against the wrist-popping, run-at-all-cost Waratahs may help build confidence, but the Championship will be physical and fast, much more so than any game against a slightly depleted Super Rugby franchise.
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The Pumas drew plaudits last year, albeit in the form of slightly mawkish or even patronising pats on the back after their first season in the Championship. They drew with South Africa, 16-all, and ran Australia close. In order to top that they need a scalp. They are certainly capable and such a result would unquestionably ripple through world rugby, but it is most likely to come at home and most likely to come against Australia. Of course they could surprise South Africa, but they must have incredible output – perhaps creating chaos again – away from home.
Even if they are tanked throughout the tournament, a win will make the second season a success. Matches certainly don’t come much tougher; home gigs don’t get more daunting.