Argentina will kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against South Africa in Durban on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Ahead of their latest assault on the southern hemisphere bragging rights, we take a look at state of play in Argentina and their hopes of upsetting New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in what is sure to be another fascinating battle.
New coach, new era
Argentina will begin a new era under head coach Mario Ledesma with the former Pumas hooker having filled the void left by Daniel Hourcade, who stepped down back in June following a disastrous run of results.
Ledesma steps up from his position as head coach of the Jaguares, the Buenos-Aires based Super Rugby side, where he has worked with the country’s leading players since taking the reins at the start of the season.
He returned to his homeland after an 18-year absence first playing and then coaching around the rugby globe including a three-year spell as part of the Australia coaching team under Michael Cheika.
Under his charge, the Jaguares went on to record their best-ever season and it will be hoped he can conjure a similar turnaround in fortunes for the national side.
“I didn’t think I would come back so soon. I’d always dreamed of coaching the Pumas,” Ledesma said following confirmation of his appointment.
South Africa vs Argentina
August 18, 2018, 3:30pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass
“I was fortunate to represent my country many times as a player and now I am proud to be the captain of the ship.
“I am not intimidated [by the role]. One must be responsible, ready to make sacrifices and to work. We have a huge challenge ahead.”
Ledesma immediately set his sights on shoring up the Pumas’ porous defence that conceded 10 tries in their three June internationals.
“We need to improve as a team. It’s defence that wins you games,” said Ledesma. “When we’re on top we’re dangerous and we score, but when we’re under the cosh we concede too many points.”
Worrying form guide
Since their defeat to Australia in the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-finals, Argentina have won just eight of their 31 Test outings with only four of those victories coming against so-called ‘Tier 1’ sides.
The poor-performing Pumas have won only one of their last 12 Test encounters, with that victory coming against Italy last November.
They sunk to a new low in June when they suffered to back-to-back home defeats to Wales before an embarrassing 44-15 loss to Scotland – just a week after the Scots had been humbled by the USA.
As a result, they enter arguably the sport’s toughest championship in 10th place in the current World Rugby rankings behind Fiji and just ahead of Japan.
History offers little hope
Argentina’s record in The Rugby Championship began brightly with a draw against South Africa in only their second clash back in 2012 but they have since notched just three victories.
Those rare highlights came against Australia in Mendoza in 2014, against South Africa in Durban the following year and versus the Springboks in Salta in 2016.
The nearest they have come to toppling New Zealand was a 28-13 defeat in Hamilton back in 2013.
The Pumas’ best-ever finish came in 2015 when the aforementioned victory in Durban was enough for them finish above the winless Boks.
3:47 The Lions ended the Jaguares' Super Rugby title hopes in the knockout stages
Super Rugby resurgence
The Buenos Aires-based Jaguares were the closest challengers to eventual finalists the Lions in the South African conference – and notched a 49-35 victory over their rivals along the way.
They also produced claimed a best-ever seventh place finish in the overall table with a total of nine victories – including an impressive four wins from four on their Australasian tour and first-ever victories over the Chiefs and Blues.
That form carried them into the knock-out stages for the first time in their short history where their title tilt came to a halt with a 40-23 defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg.
Squad omissions & New caps
The Pumas’ initial 36-man squad contains a total six uncapped players and all are forwards.
A front-row quartet of Marco Ciccioli, Diego Fortuny, Lucas Favre and Mayco Vivas are joined by lock Franco Molina and loose forward Santiago Grondona.
The latter quartet all recently played for Argentina XV against Racing 92, a fixture that was part of the inaugural Summer Rugby Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Amongst the backs named in the initial squad, Joaquín Díaz Bonilla is a second specialist fly-half alongside Nicolás Sánchez.
When focusing on the Pumas’ squad, the selection policy employed by Argentina Rugby Union’s (UAR) has been a topic of great discussion.
Ledesma’s predecessor, Hourcade, was previously limited to selecting only those plying their trade in the southern hemisphere in a bid to promote the development of the Jaguares.
The Argentina Rugby Union’s (UAR) perspective may be shifting; Ledesma highlighted to ESPN Scrum Argentina he has formally requested Juan Figallo of Saracens and Ramiro Herrera from Stade Francais Paris.
Forwards: Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Marco Ciccioli, Agustin Creevy (c), Lucas Favre, Diego Fortuny, Santiago Garcia Botta, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Ignacio Larrague, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Vivas Mayco, Santiago Medrano, Franco Molina, Julian Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Juan Zeiss.
Backs: Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastian Cancelliere, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Bautista Delguy, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Bautista Ezcurra, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Martin Landajo, Juan Cruz Mallia, Matias Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matias Orlando, Nicolas Sanchez.