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Los Pumas on the verge of their most successful Rugby Championship

By Frankie Deges
Julian Montoya of Argentina lifts the trophy with teammates after winning during a Rugby Championship match between Argentina Pumas and Australian Wallabies at San Juan del Bicentenario Stadium on August 13, 2022 in San Juan, Argentina. (Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images)

As the last two rounds fast approach and the 2022 Rugby Championship will be decided over the next four games, everybody is tapping on the calculator app – because…who uses nowadays a real calculator these days?

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Adding and subtracting points trying to understand how this unique Rugby Championship could finish and the different scenarios if offers is an exercise many have done.

The what ifs are matter of conversation in rugby circles.

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Consistency, or lack of, has been the tune which means each one of the games to be played is open.

In Argentina, they certainly believe, and what is even tougher for Michael Cheika’s team, they are expecting their team to win.

There have always been high expectations on Los Pumas when playing at home, but they have perennially been the team that could win but would probably not. Winning was mostly seen under the tilting glass of epic than the result of hard work, development, and growth.

The crowds that will fill the Independiente Stadium, after a very late change, and the non-attending rugby community will be wanting their beloved Pumas to claim another Springbok scalp at home, and, in the process, finish the season having beaten the Wallabies, the All Blacks and South Africa.

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This would be the greatest achievement regardless of where they finish in the table. Finish at the top would be a side advantage.

This possibility is certainly achievable, of course, also depending on whatever happens with the Wallabies and All Blacks.

The Springboks style of play will not endear them to the vociferous crowd, but captain Siya Kolisi has done wonders in Buenos Aires pushing the Boks friendliness, popping at a club match on Saturday, wearing the colours of the team that usually hosts training sessions for visiting test teams in the capital city of the country.

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Both Argentina and South Africa have won four and lost three test-matches this season. Inconsistency, with capital letters, has been the norm in this Rugby Championship which begs the question: what will be offered on Saturday?

Hard to say.

Cheika has been developing a side to compete against the best whilst eyeing the Rugby World Cup now less than a year ahead. So far, they have beaten two of the historically best. South Africa would be a neat addition to that list.

If they could beat the defending World Champions in his first season, his stakes and presence with the team, already very high, will continue to rise.

This fast-rebuilding process has brought smiles to the team and happy teams are more likely to be victorious.

It is hard to imagine a smiling Springbok team after a South African newspaper broke the news that one of them, Elton Jantjies had to return home with team dietician Zeenat Simjee to “attend those personal reports and eliminate distractions to the team’s preparation for the test” as the press release stated.

It was doubtful Jantjies, who has played very little rugby this year, would have been heavily involved in the game against Los Pumas. Yet, these kind of situations for a team can be very distracting.

They will have had almost a week to deal with it, but if anyone benefited from the, let’s say, scandal, it will be Argentina, who have been back at home, happy at training in Casa Puma, their HP Centre on the outskirts of the city.

Playing at home is always special for Los Pumas, more so now that players are no longer based in the country and it is an opportunity to feel the love and support of their fans.

Will Cheika mix and match the team giving players with few minutes under his reign an opportunity to stake their claim? Or better stick to tried and tested?

Tomás Cubelli seems to have lost the battle for number nine at the hands of in-form Gonzalo Bertranou.

When he came on against the All Blacks in Hamilton, veteran first five Benjamín Urdapilleta did some very positive things, albeit in a game whose winner by that stage had already been decided. Who takes the No 10 jersey will explain a lot about Cheika’s mindset.

The tight historical ties with South Africa are big and they not only generated the stage for Los Pumas coming of age in 1965 but have always fought our corner.

This time, there will be no love lost between two sides that are in different stages of development but which are very well positioned to win.

Vélez Sarsfield will provide many answers to players, coaches, fans.

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