|Photo: Rodrigo Vergara - Agustín Creevy carries|
Although Argentina´s senior mens rugby team has played six test matches so far in 2013 according to the IRB the genuine Pumas team played for the first time against a foreign team today. Argentina´s warm-up for the Rubgy Championship saw the South Americans taking on Australian Super Rugby franchise the Waratahs in La Plata. Despite the fact that the team was made up of players contracted to the Sydney based franchise and indeed the players were wearing Waratahs uniforms the official name of the team was the New South Wales Barbarians due to contractual obligations which mean the Super Rugby team cannot play such a fixture under the name the Waratahs.
Aside from the name of the team it was very much a Waratahs lineup. It was a strong one but not one at full strength. It was missing players to international duty as Australia is in preperation to face the All Blacks in fourteen days time. There were, nonetheless, a host of Australian test players on the field in La Plata. One such example was Sekope Kepu who scored two tries for the visitors. He was joined by other capped Wallabies including Dave Dennis, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell and Paddy Ryan. Argentina, in contrast, was one player away from being at full strength. The only first chocie player not on the field was Patricio Albacete.
Argentina´s advantage therefore ought to have gifted the home side a notable advantage. Instead the Australians were more efficient for much of the match and Argentina got home thanks to a penalty from replacement flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez on fulltime. Sánchez has been expected to start but was named on the bench in order to enable Juan Martín Hernández to play at flyhalf. In general play it was proven to be the correct decision as Hernández had a solid match but as a goalkicker he was unable to deliver the required quality. Hernández missed three kickable shots at goal - all were easier than the one Sánchez landed to win the match.
Hernández played the majority of the match while a host of players were replaced far earlier. This enabled certain players an opportunity to make a claim for selection and there were clear cases that Sanitago Phelan will have to take note of. The starting back-three of Horacio Agulla, Gonzalo Camacho and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga were ahrd working but non-effective in breaking the line. Of the three Agulla had the best match and scored the games first try. They were unable to find spaces and instead did better by running at Australian players. Juan Imhoff, Lucas González Amorosino and Joaquín Tuculet replaced them and were more effective as attacking weapons.
Felipe Contepomi came on in place of Santiago Fernández and was strong as was Fernández but neither Gonzalo Tiesi who started at outside centre nor his replacement Marcelo Bosch were able to have the same impact on the match. Indeed, part of the reason was the cold conditions which saw appaling handling skills throughout the match. This led to a high number of scrums and potential try scoring opportunities ending prematurely. The Pumas forced far too many passes and it was costly. Distribution from the scrumhalves was mixed with Martín Landajo not having his best performance and Argentina looking better when he was on the sidelines.
Both Landajo and his replacement, Tomás Cubelli, had good go-forward ball. The South Americans were the better of the two teams in the forwards with the scrum performing well throughout. The lineout was not so steady however but Agustín Creevy would appear to have improved his accuracy. His ability to gain metres was evident as he replaced Eusebio Guiñazú to score two second half tries. Creevy should certainly have shown why he is the leading Argentine hooker. Juan Figallo and Marcos Ayerza were both solid in the frontrow too while youngster Matías Díaz looked better at tighthead than Maximilano Bustos has against England. He appears to have justified his selection while his under 20 colleague Pablo Matera will need to improve.
Matera was one of many to mishandle the ball and he was guilty of missing a tackle which saw the Australians take a half time lead. He started with Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and Leonardo Senatore who are expected to start against the Springboks. Senatore, however, did not have his best performance with Benjamín Macome replacing him and not looking inferior. Juan Manuel Leguizamón replaced Matera and was on his game. Manuel Carizza was not as impressive as he had been in 2012 while his secondrow colleague Mariano Galarza delivered a fine performance and the young Tomás Lavanini´s limited time was positive.
Game two will be in Salta this coming Friday. Phelan will be certain to make changes.