IT HAS not been a vintage year for Argentina. Some dismal performances in the first half of the year culminated in the 15-44 loss to Scotland which was their last under the stewardship of Daniel Hourcade, and although new coach Mario Ledesma led them to wins in the Rugby Championship over South Africa at home and Australia away, in the last fortnight they have lost 28-17 to Ireland and 28-13 to France.
Still, while the results have been less than scintillating, the players are far more confident and positively motivated than they were in summer, and would like nothing better to end 2018 on a high with victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“Spirits are good,” winger Sebastián Cancelliere said after the Pumas squad trained at Portobello Rugby Club on Wednesday. “We know we are in the correct path.
“It’s been a year of changes, but besides the losses to Ireland and France we know we are in the correct path. That game against Scotland was really bad – we don’t want to repeat it.”
Cancelliere, who combines playing for the Jaguares in Super Rugby with trying to complete an engineering degree, lined up opposite Dougie Fife in Resistencia. The home team actually got the better of the second half in that game, on the scoreboard at least, but their woeful defence had seen them concede five tries in a first 40 minutes which ended with Scotland 36-3 ahead.
On the up
Their physical ability has never been in doubt, but their morale was poor then, and their organisation left a lot to be desired too. The morale is much better now, according to Cancelliere, who also believes that their structures and planning are heading in the right direction.
“These games we are using to improve our systems, but the spirit is good,” the 25-year-old continued. “Always when you win, spirits are better and training is different, but we are in the correct path.
“We know it’s going to be difficult and we know we are playing against great nations. Scotland have improved a lot this year and had a great Six Nations. Also Ireland of course. We know that this type of rugby is not Super Rugby, but we trust in our system and if we do the things we say and we practise, we are going to thrive.”
Running out of steam
Scotland always back their own fitness no matter who their opponents are, but they may find themselves at a noticeable advantage over the Pumas late in the game at the weekend. Certainly, Cancelliere thought that his team had faded in the last quarter against Ireland, and accepted that their stamina was a problem that had yet to be resolved.
“We were close. We pushed them to the limit but we lost in the last 20 minutes, and I think that great teams make the difference in that last 20 minutes so we have to improve. We played an excellent game for 60 minutes, but that is not enough at this level.”
Such difficulties were, of course, rendered insignificant by the death on Monday of Sofia Catalina Pozzi, the 23-year-old partner of Marcos Kremer. The Pumas flanker had travelled to Europe with the squad, but returned to Argentina two weeks ago on learning that Pozzi had been diagnosed with leukaemia. Cancelliere said the players would continue to offer support to their team-mate when they returned, but also suggested they would not try to use the tragedy as any sort of motivating factor against Scotland.
“We are a very close team. Kremer had to return home on the week of the Ireland game. It was a very difficult moment for the whole team. When we go back we’re going to be very close to Marcos. We’re not going to use that as an excuse or extra motivation for this match.”