Monday, September 8, 2014

Rugby Championship: Argentina in Need of Superior Bench

Photo: UAR
In the matches played thus far Argentina has demonstrated competitiveness and has threatened opposition teams. Thee South Americans are nonetheless, yet, to win a Rugby Championship fixture. Both players and journalists from the competing opposition nations have commented that a Pumas triumph is not going to take too much longer. Standing in the way of winning is not only the elite quality of the opposition teams but also Argentina's current selection policy. Matches too date have illustrated a flaw - the strength of the bench has been Argentina's archilles' heel. 

What exactly has prevented Argentina from winning thus far? In Pretoria it was a lack of tries. South Africa scored one, Argentina zero. The final score was separated by seven points. In general play Argentina performed well and did so again in Salta and scored three tries, the same number as South Africa. Against New Zealand weather made it hard to cross but New Zealand's impressive defence and a questionable refereeing decision saw Argentina tryless.

The test match in Salta was there for the taking. Holding a twelve point lead Los Pumas really ought to have gone on to win the match. Instead South Africa completed a final quarter come back. Central to South Africa's victory was the use and quality of replacements. The impact of Marcell Coetzee, Bakkies Botha, Adriaan Strauss and Morné Steyn was profound.

Not only were they able to provide fresh legs but they were close, or equal, to the ability of the player they were replacing. In a post match interview Daniel Hourcade commented on not using his replacements wisely. Having lost Pablo Matera and Martín Landajo to first half injuries he would not go to his bench again until the 67th minute with Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro replacing Ramiro Herrera.

The introduction of Tetaz Chaparro coincided with South Africa taking a 30-28 lead while Matías Alemano entered in place of Tomás Lavanini two minutes later. With the Springboks ahead 31-31 Hourcade made four changes in the final three minutes and thus emptying his bench. A simple conclusion would be that it was too little too late. A more likely one, however, would be that it was not only too late but the bench was not of the same calibre as the opposition. 

Indeed the loss was not at all uncommon to events in previous Rugby Championship fixtures beginning in 2012. The 16-16 draw in Mendoza against South Africa in 2012 had been 16-6 after fifty minutes. Also at fifty minutes New Zealand held just a 9-5 lead in the following test in Wellington but went on to win 21-5. Argentina then led Australia by 19-6 on the Gold Coast after 56 minutes but lost 23-19 while in 2013 Argentina lost narrowly against the Springboks and Wallabies after being in a position to win in Mendoza and Perth.

Argentina, in other words, has a clear problem in finishing off matches. Central to winning will be not only superior fitness and an improved bench. Rugby is a twenty-three man team game not a fifteen man one. Those entering in place of injured or tired players need to be world-class athletes without exception. No player can be there for development reasons. Indeed, Los Jaguaers and the CONSUR Cup exist for this very purpose.

The non-selection of the likes of Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Santiago Fernández, Eusebio Guiñazú, Nahuel Lobo and Gonzalo Tiesi, amongst others, has divided opinion but it is clear that those starting have all been players of quality. Lavanini and Galarza, for instance, has been truly impressive in place of Albacete and Carizza. Those missing, however, would arguably improve the bench. Doubt can indeed be placed on reserves to have played thus far in the Rugby Championship and injuries to Maximilano Bustos, Gonzalo Camacho, Juan Figallo and now Pablo Matera have certainly complicated matters considerably.

Arguably at full strength the bench would have a different look to it. The lesson being told in the ongoing Rugby Championship is Argentina can win matches but to do so needs to have a reinforced set of replacements. There is still time for Hourcade to select players including those listed above which would certainly add to the team's chances now and in the World Cup. 

1 comment:

  1. Considering the disciplinary issues of some of those players can they truly be relied upon...What about Albacete's utterances in the media?

    Argenina is playing with a lot more cohesion these days