Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, says Argentina had better go back to what they are good at and reflects on Bath’s selection policy last weekend.
A couple of weeks ago we wrote that England had better be worried after Argentina had beaten the Wallabies 23-19 on the Gold Coast.
RugbySpy’s second favourite international team are in the same group as England at next year’s World Cup in Japan and that spells trouble for Eddie Jones’ mob if they play like they did against the Wallabies.
A couple of weeks later and we are going to write about what the hell is going on down in Puma Land after they tried to take on the All Blacks without a functioning scrum. It is like the assassin from Killing Eve going on a job and forgetting to pack her gun.
They still give us great hairy arsed forwards like Agustin Creevy, the wondrous lock Tomas Lavanani and the flankers Pablo Matera and Marcos Kremer but the scrum was all over the shop.
The Pumas set piece on Saturday against the world champions, in Buenos Aires, got creamed despite the presence of Kremer.
And it was not even the All Blacks first choice front row that handed them their backsides. And that is not good enough from the Pumas where front rowers are the main men and scrummaging is a test of your manhood. Come on boys – show us your empanadas.
But last weekend their front row showed less bottle than a bloke in a run-down bar in San Juan, Rosario or Mendoza.
Argentina is the land that gave us great, wild-eyed and, frankly, terrifying forwards like Federico Mendez, famous for pole-axing Paul Ackford back in the day, Marcos Ayerza, ‘Topo’ Rodriguez and their great current coach Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma played hooker, and he was a bad arse No.2, and part of the great Puma team that came third in the 2007 World Cup, and he would have it with anyone.
In 2004, RugbySpy was at the Velodrome in Marseille when Argentina took down France 24-14.
Apart from the episode when your correspondent got locked in a restaurant toilet when having a pre-match beer with an official from the-then IRB, it was a fun weekend. We must stress that RugbySpy was in the toilet on his own.
And come game-time it all kicked off as the Puma pack piled into the French.
It was the first time Los Pumas had beaten France in France and it did not go down well with the locals. Boy, it was fun and Ledesma was at the heart of it.
So he must have been ripping the remaining shreds of his hair out at the weekend when he saw his scrum getting bullied.
This is the country that gave us the ‘Bajada’ scrum which was invented in the Sixties by Francisco Ocampo. Born in 1902, Ocampo saw his first rugby match in Buenos Aires in 1923 and later played the game in the back row or sometimes at fly-half.
But he became obsessed with the scrum because it reminded him of the hard labour that had to be done in his home region of Catamarca in the north west of Argentina.
There are some scrum nerds knocking about in the Premiership but this bloke was on a different level. In the Bajada scrum the locks bind their outside arms around the props’ hips instead of between their legs and scrummage into the hooker. Secondly there was the co-ordinated push where the entire pack pushed on the call of the scrum-half with the aim of catching the opposition pack off guard.
It was all pretty gruesome for the other set of forwards and Pumas dined out on their forward play, especially the scrum, for years. But it all went west in Buenos Aries as the Argentines went down 35-17 and the All Blacks won the Rugby Championship for the sixth time. Ledesma has to go back to basics and get the scrum right.
It is still an important attacking weapon and the day it becomes just another means of restarting the game, like in rugby, is the day we can pack it all in.
After the game Ledesma was livid. “We struggled in the set pieces and it was embarrassing to watch New Zealand dominate us in the scrums,” he said.
“What really upset me was that we did not do the simple things, the basics, properly. You cannot fail to do that and hope to beat the All Blacks.
“Some of the scrums and lineouts offered attacking opportunities for us and we failed to take them.” You said it, mate.
But the signs were there. Earlier in September after the Pumas had lost 46-24 to the Kiwis in Nelson and seen their scrum demolished Ledesma said this.
“We got torn apart so we need to get better there. It’s been the same for the last couple of years. Unfortunately other teams go hard at us there because they consider we’re really strong.”
So they have known all about it but have been able to fix it. Maybe they should give Phil Keith-Roach, the guru of scrum gurus who was part of England coaching team in 2003 a ring. He loves a scrum.
Ledesma and his pals scrummed for a living when they were playing. In the same way Phil Blakeway, Jason Leonard, Graham Price, Fran Cotton and Robert Paparemborde scrummed for their living. They didn’t give two hoots about the fancy stuff out the back – they just got their head down and scrummed.
Leonard made his England debut against Argentina in 1990 and is convinced he was accepted as one of the boys by his team after coming through the massive physical test posed by the Pumas. And they were a hard bunch to impress.
Joe Marler, the Harlequins maverick prop, who retired from international rugby last week was a proper scrummaging prop but last year he said he was worried that the old-school boys up front were becoming a thing of the past. Let’s hope not, the game is not all about fancy passes and kicking.
For all those named their life was the scrum and Los Pumas always scrummed for their life.
They didn’t on Saturday and they must rediscover the art quickly.
Bath were always going to be up against it when they travelled to Allianz Park to face the Premiership champions, Saracens, on Saturday.
By 5pm that day they had duly conceded eight tries and a half-century of points as they went down 50-27 and it could have been more.
But the match was not decided on Saturday, it was all over at mid-day on Friday when Todd Blackadder, the Bath director of rugby, named his team.
The Bath boss made 13 changes from the side that had beaten Northampton 17-15 the week before. No Dave Attwood, no Luke Charteris, no Taulupe Faletau, no Joe Cockanasiga, no Zach Mercer and the list went on.
Bath scored three tries but two were from intercepted passes that Saracens would not have thrown in other circumstances – it was all a bit of a mess from the second-stringers.
Blackadder’s explanation was they have Exeter at home on Friday night followed by a couple of European games against Toulouse and Wasps and he was entitled to rotate his squad. And he was – they are his players and it is his neck on the line.
“We prepared to beat them,” he told his audience after the game. “We actually prepared really well, when you look at the team that we put out we did give some guys opportunities that probably haven’t had a lot of rugby so far. You don’t prepare to lose, so we backed ourselves, we back anybody in the jersey to get out there and do the job and when you don’t you learn some lessons from it. At times you’ve got to do these things.”
Blackadder won’t face any sanctions for picking the team he did but it just didn’t feel right.