Saturday, October 5, 2013

Argentina outplayed as Australia complete thumping win in Rosario

Santiago Phelan was unable to see Argentina through to a win in the Rugby Championship
Argentina was dealt a rugby lesson in Rosario on Saturday evening as the Wallabies were far too strong with the South Americans trying to defeat the Australians by playing a foreign brand of rugby. The seven tries to two match sees Santiago Phelan´s six year reign come to a close in a less than memorable manner.

Phelan took over as Los Pumas head coach in 2008. It was at a time of changes and a time in which Argentine rugby was making headlines. Los Pumas had finished third in the Rugby World Cup and before that the South Americans had defeated all European opposition over two year period that saw Phelan take control of a team ranked third in the world. 

While the rankings are far from being perfect  they do tell a story as Argentina is ranked seven places lower now than when Phelan was appointed Los Pumas head coach. The match against Australia was Phelan´s third time coaching Argentina in a test in the city of Rosario. On the two previous occassions tight matches had taken place and in the days leading up to tonights match many commentators were suggesting this would be tight with Argentina coming out on top to complete a first ever win in a Rugby Championship match. Argentina won a tight match over Scotland in 2008 while Australia won the 2012 fixture. The 2013 match saw Australia win by easily its largest score of the year and did so without really needing to play well as the South Americans were simply very out of touch. 

Although it is the players and not the coaches who are on the field playing the match it is the coach and his staff who are given the task of preparing the players to win. This has been something that Phelan and his colleagues were not able to do consistently. In total Argentina played 59 matches between 2008 and tonights game in Rosario. Of those 27 were victories, 31 were loses and there was one draw. The wins, however include matches in the South American Championship meaning that in reality Argentina´s years under Phelan were not successful. 

While Marcelo Loffreda was able to take sides to Europe and win two out of three tests on November tours Phelan was only able to ever win one test per year. Indeed Phelan´s highlights were wins over Italy  in 2008 and 2010, over Scotland in 2009 and over Wales in 2012. Having seen Argentina defeat Scotland in Wellington to advance to the Quarter Finals of Rugby World Cup 2011 the UAR extended Phelan´s contract and did so to the delight of a number of players including the outgoing veteran hooker Mario Ledesma. 

With Argentina having at long last been added to the Tri Nations change of leadership was considered to be risky and at an inappropriate time. Having had a mixed debut season in the Rugby Championship and a good win over Wales in Europe in November the Phelan coached side would have a good chance of kicking-on in 2013 but it did no eventuate. The 2013 campaign was instead a near mirror of the 2012 tournament. Argentina started off below par against South Africa in both years only to then almost win both return matches in Mendoza. Indeed both games ought to have seen Argentina winning. Mental frailty being clearly evident in both matches as well as the two away matches against Australia. 

The matches against New Zealand in Wellington and Hamilton were also very similar and there were elements of the two tests in La Plata that were also comparable as Argentina tried to play differently and New Zealand´s fitness proved to be too strong.  The following tests at home against Australia then saw Argentina as favorite only to play poorly both times which Australia greatfully accepted to win matches that a better organized Argentine team simply could not have lost. 

Early signs in the match were not good with referee Wayne Barnes becoming the latest U.K referee to decide against awarding a penalty try when the defending scrum does what it can outside of the rules to avoid conceeding a try. Barnes awarded Argentina five early penalties as Australia constantly infringed five metres from its tryline. Combined with Israel Folau scoring an early try Barnes not awarding a penalty try to the home side the match had not started in a way that looked like Argentina could dictate. But Argentina was guilty of falling into the trap of trying to beat a team at their own game and not playing to ones strengths. 

What Warren Gatland has brought to Wales is just what the UAR ought to consider. Gatlland took over a Welsh side that had been eliminated in the pool stage of Rugby World Cup 2007 by Fiji. It was a case of Wales playing an entertainig game against the Fijians and doing it how Fiji likes to play. In 1999 it was just the same only with Samoa defeating Wales. Gatland´s success as the Welsh coach has not seen Wales playing a brand of rugby remotely similar to that played in these World Cup defeats. Against Australia in Rosario Phelan´s game plan was hard to identify. It was hybrid but ineffective and enabled Australia as many as five tries through simple basic errors. 

Leading 25-10 at half time Australia had scored three tries that a structured defence would be expected to prevent. Indeed the Argentine defensive line was non-existent for much of the match similar to what had taken place in Dublin last November against the Irish. The mental toughness had vanished and no game plan could be found. There was hope though such as when Marcelo Bosch went over in the 28th minute for Argentina´s first try.  But it occured four minutes afer Folau scord his second try after he left Horacio Agulla for dead and Folau´s third try was also scored after getting past a defender too easily.

Other Wallaby tries were against the run of play and they occured despite Argentina being able to break the line on numerous occassions. What Argentina lacked was execution as regular knock-ons or passing to Wallaby players brought a end to advancing Pumas attacks. It was reminiscent of Wales in many ways against Fiji and Samoa previously. Also of note were certain players selected with Phelan not able to get enough out of all of his players.

There will be changes ahead of November with Phelan set to be replaced. The new coach is not yet known but there have been rumours of Super Rugby coaches including John Kirwan, Dave Rennie, Jamie Joseph, Todd Blackadder and Michael Cheika all taking over from Phelan. Other names to have come up include Robbie Deans, Marcelo Loffreda, Daniel Hourcade and, of course, Graham Henry. The coming days should clear everything up with Cheika possibly being the new coach. Him coaching Stade Français and the Waratahs to tours of Argentina before the 2012 and 2013 Rugby Championship is extremely unique.

The UAR also needs to face facts. If it wants a team capable of winning matches with regualrity and getting back into the World Cup Semi Finals then it needs to have a professional competition. Argentine rugby cannot remain amateur or semi-professional. It cannot merely have a team playing in a South African competition. It needs two teams in Super Rugby with one in Buenos Aires and the other in the north.  

1 comment:

  1. I don't want to admit to being a coward but I didn't watch the game, fearing that this would happen.

    As I've said before major changes need to be put in place i.e. a national training base and pro rugby, and you still might get some lop sided score lines because ARG just ain't used to the kind of rugby being dished out here.

    They'll be a force, it just won't be next year or the year after next.

    Roll on 2019 and 2023!

    P.S they deserve to be in this comp as much as ITA in the 6 nations. Maybe even more!