'I believe': New Los Pumas coach Michael Cheika says Argentina can win World Cup
That’s the verdict he delivered in his first press conference as Argentine head coach since succeeding his former colleague Mario Ledesma.
Cheika has assumed the role of Los Pumas boss less than 18 months out from the 2023 World Cup at a time when Argentine rugby is at one of its lowest points in decades.
Despite a first-ever win over the All Blacks and two drawn matches against the Wallabies in Australia two years ago, Los Pumas endured a horror campaign last year, winning just three of their 12 tests between July and November.
As such, Ledesma called it quits and was replaced by Cheika, who worked as an advisor to Ledesma over the last two years after having served as his head coach during their time at the helm of the Wallabies.
Cheika brings with him plenty of experience to the Argentine role, but he has plenty of work to do to turn the world’s eighth-ranked team back into World Cup contenders by next September.
World Rugby’s 2015 Coach of the Year has no shortage of confidence in making that happen, though, as he told Argentine media that he will enter that tournament with the aim of winning the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris.
“We don’t go into any match, any competition, any tournament, without targeting winning,” Cheika said.
“Why else do you play if you aren’t going to target winning? What, you want to go and play to come sixth or to come fourth? All of that is just to make you feel good. Maybe you make a quarter-final to feel good.
“Where are we today? We’re certainly not in No 1 position in the rankings, but what I want to do is work smart, get players engaged in improving their level, make them believe that they can go further to achieve those goals and play your best every weekend, and see what happens, because I believe.
“It doesn’t matter what I believe, it matters what the boys believe, but I believe.”
Cheika, who guided the Wallabies to the 2015 World Cup final before overseeing a dire four-year period that ended in a World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of England in 2019, will begin his quest with Los Pumas in two months’ time.
For the first time in three years, Los Pumas will play a home test in Argentina when they host Scotland across three tests during World Rugby’s July international window.
They will then host the Wallabies in what will be a blockbuster pair of home games to open their Rugby Championship campaign, before embarking on a two-test tour of New Zealand and finishing with home-and-away fixtures against the Springboks.
After a European tour where Argentina will face England, Wales and Scotland in successive tests, Cheika’s focus will then narrow in on France 2023.
Given the mountainous task of trying to win a World Cup amid an international climate where more than half a dozen of the world’s best teams could beat each other on their day, few – if any – will expect Los Pumas to win next year’s tournament.
Most would say it would be difficult for Argentina to even eclipse their best-ever finishes of semi-final exits, which they achieved in 2007 and 2015.
In fact, Los Pumas may have a fight on their hands to just get out of their group, as they are placed in Pool D alongside perennial heavyweights England, the ever-threatening Japan and a Samoan outfit that could be overhauled by World Rugby’s new eligibility laws.
Even if they do make it into the quarter-finals, a knockout match against any one of Australia, Wales or Fiji beckons, while a semi-final could pit them against the All Blacks, Springboks, France, Ireland, Scotland or even a new-look, potentially all-star Tongan team.
Considering where Los Pumas currently stand in the global scheme of things, the prospect of World Cup glory in France is unlikely at best, but Cheika remains firmly optimistic about Argentina’s chances.
“I just try my best, use my experience, and try to have a good process in making good decisions and then help players get better and the support team get better, and then trust them to go and play good rugby,” he said.
“That’s the foundation of a good team is when we trust each other.
“I’m the type of person who is going to give you trust straight away and if we keep it, we go further. I don’t know if that makes me the best candidate, but they’ve trusted me to do this job and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
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