|Fulltime in Paris - Mario Ledesma celebrates defeating France in 2007|
One of the key men involved in the rise of Argentine rugby in the professional era is Marcelo Loffreda. The former Pumas centre coached Argentina from 2000-2007 and had huge success as with him in charge Argentina went from a respected to a feared team in world rugby. The Loffreda coached Pumas overcame an early exit from Rugby World Cup 2003 to send thunderous warnings across Europe from 2004-2006. During this time Argentina notched up win after win in the old continent and Argentina´s leading players became ever increasing hot property in top clubs. In the final rugby match played at the Stade de France before the Rugby World Cup Agustín Pichot became the first non-frenchman to captain a French club to the Top 14 title. It was just one of many high points in the later years of his career. Pichot had defeated Wales and Scotland in Edinburgh and Cardiff in 2001, France in Marseilles in 2004, England in London and 2006 and without him a depleted Argentina also drew with the British and Irish Lions at the Millennium Stadium in 2005.
He took over after the high that was Rugby World Cup 1999 when Argentina defeated Samoa, Japan and Ireland en route to reaching the Quarter Finals for the first time in history. Eight years later Loffreda´s team finished third in the world after his players had turned the competition on its head by defeating the host nation in the tournament´s first match on September 7. The win over France set the course for a series of good results in which Argentine went on to defeat Georgia, Namibia and Ireland to win the pool of death and then defeat Scotland in the Quarter Final. The run came to an end as South Africa was too strong for Argentina but there was no question that the South Americans had left a mark on global rugby like never before. It led to the overdue shakeup of the Southern Hemisphere order to see Argentina enter the Tri Nations to create the Rugby Championship in 2012. Had Argentina not reached the Semi Final´s and subsequently finished third after a second win over France then the chances of Argentina would still likely be without an annual competition.
When Loffreda left the position to join the Leicester Tigers the UAR replaced him with another former Pumal, Santiago Phelan. The backrower took over a healthy team but one seet to lose a host of players to retirement. Pichot would not play again at test level after Rugby World Cup 2007 nor would Omar Hasan, Gonzalo Longo, Ignacio Corleto, Manuel Contepomi or Lucas Ostiglia. The task facing Phelan was to make a new team but he had a year or two remaining in a number of players. He got a good return out of many with Felipe Contepomi, Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero and Martín Scelzo all remaining to play in another Rugby World Cup . The results, however, were not as strong as Phelan was unable to conquer Europe or have a comparable home win / loss record as that of Loffreda. The pressure of the job nonetheless saw Phelan stay on in 2012 and he will remain in charge until after the Rugby Championship.
There have been some names thrown around to replace Phelan. Super Rugby coaches having been give particular attention. While another name has now emerged - Marcelo Loffreda. The former Pumas coach told Argentine site ole that he is open to a return to the position of head coach. Without question this is welcoming news for Argentine rugby supporters and is certain to be a popular option abroad. Loffreda´s ability to read the opposition saw him develop simple, but effective, game plans to give Argentina the upper hand. While he coached Argentina to important wins he was rarely in charrge of a badly defeated side.