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Los Pumas need Cheika's magic in time for the World Cup

By Frankie Deges
The returning Agustin Creevy brought his customary passion to Los Pumas in their win over Scotland (Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

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Pressure. What is pressure? It all comes down to who is under it and how it is handled.


Ian Foster is apparently fighting for his job in South Africa as the All Blacks are in urgent need to get back on track after four losses in the last five tests; losing the three-game series against a physical and intelligent Irish side has proven to be seismic for New Zealand rugby.

In similar fashion, Wallaby coach Dave Rennie needs to find consecutive wins in his team’s two game tour of Argentina at the start of The Rugby Championship to put behind the series’ loss against Eddie Jones’ England.

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A good start in South America might ensure they don’t end with the Wooden Spoon in this year’s Rugby Championship and put him in a safe seat ahead of the next year.

Jacques Nienaber’s job is secure as the Springboks won their July series against the Welsh and can allow themselves to prepare for Rugby World Cup 2023 with minimum pressure.

What about new Puma coach Michael Cheika?

His job is totally secure until the end of Argentina’s road in Rugby World Cup 2023. Having been brought onboard earlier this year, the former Wallaby mentor has a sell-by date which, is said, won’t be extended beyond whatever happens in France.


His heir apparent, or who is being signalled to follow his steps, is former Puma captain Felipe Contepomi, in charge of running the backs and the attack of the team.

Contepomi was European Champion with Leinster under Cheika, moved to Paris at his bequest and in the last four years was an important member of the Irish province’s technical staff.

Former Randwick loose forward Cheika had already been involved with Los Pumas in the previous two seasons when brought in as consultant by former coach Mario Ledesma.

His hand when the team beat the All Blacks, so far for the only time in history, in 2020, was certainly noticeable.


Some of the team’s attitudes were clear patterns of the teams he has successfully coached over many.

Since joining Argentina, he has tried to instil some of his methods for the series against Scotland, with relative success.

A last-gasp try scored, ironically, by Edinburgh fullback Emiliano Boffelli and his superb touch-line conversion, gave Cheika’s team the series win 2-1 – results wise, a better outcome than the Wallabies and the All Blacks.

Currently ninth in the World Rugby Rankings, Los Pumas are fully aware that every test they play until their debut in France 2023 will help them to fully understand the Cheika way.

They need to learn from their coach and staff what they need to do to get out of Pool D starting against England at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, the day after the start of the tournament, followed by team on the rise Samoa (September 22), neighbours and debutants Chile (September 30) and a Japanese side that now knows what it feels to win in the world’s biggest stage on October 8.

Time will give players full understanding of the defensive method brought to them by former Kiwis assistant coach David Kidwell.

With rugby league non-existent in the country, players are slowly trying to get what is being asked of them by someone new to rugby union. From the outside, it seems more a of cultural than a technical curve.

There were far too many defensive chinks in the Puma armour against Scotland; as good as the Scots were, they managed easy tries. Defending will be much harder against the three Rugby Championship opponents.


With tighter defences, Cheika’s methods, aided with the vision of Contepomi, should see a more ambitious team with possession of the ball.

In their tenth season in the premier Southern Hemisphere competition, Argentina has understood what is needed of them and Cheika will bring his vast knowledge of how to deal with pressure – even if he isn’t under any other pressure than performing.

In October 2018, when coaching the Wallabies in Salta, he romped into his changing room after a 7-31 first half score. Having lost the previous test between both sides in the Gold Coast, there was certainly pressure on him.

The footage from the pencil camera in the shed forewarned of what would come. When the final whistle went, the visitors celebrated an incredible 45-34 win.

That game of two-halves saved Cheika’s job and with a number of Pumas from that game still involved with the team, they would love to have some of that magic.

Cheika is trying to endear himself to the locals insisting on trying a blend of Spanish, Italian and Aussie when publicly speaking, his message needs to be coming through for players to understand.

His brief was clear: get the team ready for Rugby World Cup.

The next six games will give a hint of how far Los Pumas are from returning from France with at least a quarter-final place, one that evaded them in Japan three years ago.

With Nicolás Sanchez expected to return to the pivotal number 10 position (after only 20 minutes against the Scots before leaving injured) and inside him former Brumby Tomás Cubelli (who had to pull-out of the series in the first test warm-up) at 9, Cheika will have experienced leaders to control how he wants his team to play the game.

With every game a stepping stone towards RWC, the pressure will probably come in France.

Even if by then, his fate will be already known.


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