NZ Herald

The All Blacks will take on the Pumas in their first meeting of the Tri Nations on Saturday – the first test for the Argentineans since last year’s Rugby World Cup.

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Argentina have been one of the hardest hit teams in world rugby by the pandemic, with several players and coach Mario Ledesma contracting the virus this year.

It means the Argentineans will be a relatively unknown prospect heading into their first test of the year.

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Here’s all you need to know about the team to face the All Blacks and everything the South Americans have gone through to get here.

Argentina team to face the All Blacks

Ledesma has named three new faces in the side to face the All Blacks at Bankwest Stadium.

Flanker Pablo Matera captains the side, while Santiago Chocobares will make his debut at centre.

Santiago Grondona and Lucio Cinti are also set to make their test debuts from the bench.

Argentina team: 1. Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo, 2. Julian Montoya, 3. Francisco Gómez-Kodela, 4. Guido Petti, 5. Matias Alemanno, 6. Pablo Matera (c), 7. Marcos Kremer, 8. Rodrigo Bruni, 9. Tomas Cubelli, 10. Nicolas Sánchez, 11. Juan Imhoff, 12. Santiago Chocobares*, 13. Matias Orlando, 14. Bautista Delguy, 15. Santiago Carreras.

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Reserves: 16. Facundo Bosch, 17. Mayco Vivas, 18. Santiago Medrano, 19. Santiago Grondona*, 20. Tomas Lezana, 21. Gonzalo Bertranou, 22. Lucio Cinti*, 23. Santiago Cordero.

Preparations ahead of Tri Nations

Having not played a test in over a year, the Argentineans will be coming into the clash relatively cold compared to the All Blacks who have played four tests against the Wallabies in five weeks.

 

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After undergoing a two-week quarantine in Australia last month, the Pumas faced an Australia XV twice in warm-up matches, winning both.

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Ledesma’s side beat the Australian team featuring several fringe Wallabies 19-15 in the first clash, then went on to beat the Aussies again in a sensational 57-24 victory, a game that consisted of three 30-minute periods.

There was probably not a lot to learn from the warm-up games but don’t rule out a strong and hungry side rushing off the blocks against the All Blacks.

While the two victories were a good sign for the Argentineans, facing a battle-hardened All Blacks team looking to bounce back from a loss will be a daunting task.

Pandemic challenges

Pumas No 8 Rodrigo Bruni said his side are motivated to put on a strong performance for the fans in Argentina, where the pandemic has hit hard.

“The key to this week is to give up everything for this jersey,” Bruni said at training.

“The thing I highlight most about this group is that they never give up.

“A few months ago we were training and didn’t know whether we were going to play.”

It’s been a long road to Australia for the Pumas, with more than a dozen players and staff, including head coach Ledesma, testing positive for Covid-19 at a training camp in Argentina.

The Springboks, who didn’t report any positive tests, withdrew from the Rugby Championship anyway due to worries about player safety from a lack of match practice.

However, the Argentineans were determined to make it to Australia for the tournament despite the challenges they’ve faced. The Argentine union’s financial situation also probably put more pressure on the need to join the competition at all cost.

The return of Michael Cheika

The familiar face of Michael Cheika will be amongst the Pumas coaching staff, with the former Wallabies coach joining Ledesma’s team as an assistant helping with logistics and tactical advice.

Cheika, who reunited with his former scrum coach Ledesma, says he’s been impressed with the spirit and work ethic in Pumas camp in the face of adversity.

“They are hungry to get a feeling of the jersey and to play at the next level,” he said.

“(They are) also very mindful because there are a lot of people in Argentina who don’t have this chance so they want to be well prepared.”

Cheika, of course, was replaced by Kiwi Dave Rennie after a disappointing World Cup campaign.

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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