The Pumas second row was sent off the last time these two met at the World Cup in 2019

Tomas Lavanini’s ability to accrue cards is meme worthy. He’s received 12 (three red and nine yellow) in his Argentina career. A little over one every five full matches. His last World Cup was ended in the third match by a 17th minute red card against England. But, with the regularity that he receives cards, he also receives international caps. What is he doing to make up for his disciplinary blunders? Here’s why Argentina pick Lavanini.

The work of a great lock is rarely seen. In a world of twinkle-toed carriers and forwards who think they are backs, you need someone who is willing to devote all their talents to being the best ruck hitter in rugby. Given Argentina’s high possession approach, Lavanini gets through a lot of work. In their recent one-point defeat against South Africa he was third by attacking rucks hit and carried more than anyone else as well.

Read more: How to watch England v Argentina at the Rugby World Cup

In some ways he suffers from the Maro Itoje effect. Itoje was often highlighted as someone who gave away a lot of penalties. And it’s true, he did. But he gave them away because he was involved in every aspect of the game; tackling, carrying, rucking, jackaling etc.

When viewed from a penalty per involvement perspective, it wasn’t that bad at all. Itoje’s dwindling penalties conceded can be seen as a sign of his reduced powers rather than improved discipline.

Lavanini is involved everywhere. That engine is very hard to find anywhere in international rugby. Because it’s not just a fitness exercise – running between points – you have to be effective when you get there. One of the areas where locks tend to struggle is their carrying.

Related: Argentina Rugby World Cup squad – Lavanini starts v England

With a few exceptions, there are none who are world class carriers. Despite his many plaudits, it’s one of the reasons why I think Eben Etzebeth is still underrated. He does everything Lavanini does but then carries like a back row. For Lavanini he tends to carry quite high and his size means he’s not that dynamic. It’s one of the reasons why he has more international cards than career tries.

No lock can have a long career without being strong in the lineout. Lavanini tends to be used by Clermont at the front of the lineout. There he can be used to secure easy ball or make a hooker’s throw challenging. Getting the ball over him is like throwing over a church tower.

Toulouse found this out last year in their opening game. Their throws to the back, the best attacking option, often went astray as Lavanini either intercepted them or they lost accuracy trying to go over the top.

That is where he comes into his own. In many ways like an Alun Wyn Jones figure. He will often be looked past in favour of a lock who offers something more pleasing on the eye. But as soon as they’re gone, you realise what they were doing to hold everything in place. Lavanini, when he’s not sat in the sin bin, is Argentina’s glue.

Related: Why All Black Scott Barrett escaped ban before Rugby World Cup

We have to cover the cards though. It is hard to make a long international career for yourself if you’re constantly pinged for clearly avoidable errors. The biggest criticism of Lavanini is that he gives away needless cards. In New Zealand’s final game before the World Cup, Scott Barrett was sent off after 38 minutes – 10 of those he spent in the bin.

You can disagree on whether the second should have been a straight red but what you’d have to agree is that neither helped his team. Sometimes a card is given away under extreme pressure and the perpetrator is whoever was the last man spotted. Sometimes it’s a professional foul where yellow was better than a certain try. But Barrett’s two cards were just pointless acts which didn’t help the team. That’s so often true of Lavanini as well.

Read more: Our unique Rugby World Cup odds – including Lavanini two get two or more yellow cards

Sadly, that’s going to hang over his career unless he fixes it. Lavanini is in the running as one of the best second rows in World Rugby. That’s what he should be seen as. But instead he’s a punchline because of his poor, and often inexcusable, discipline. I personally would love to see him put on a performance which showcases that elite skillset. However, if Argentina play five games and he’s involved in them all, he’s odds on to receive a card.

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