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Pablo Matera on how Los Pumas can 'beat all the bigger teams regularly'

By Ben Smith
(Photo by CHRISTIAAN KOTZE/AFP via Getty Images)

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The 2021 season was one of the most challenging in Argentina’s history as they went through a winless Rugby Championship before a tough Northern tour that yielded a solitary win over Italy.

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The season was a culmination of many factors that had conspired against Argentina since the start of the pandemic.

The Jaguares were disbanded in 2020, after which many of the Pumas players had to take up contracts in the Northern Hemisphere, ending up out-of-sync with the Southern Hemisphere calendar.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 2
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 2

Ahead of their 2021 Rugby Championship in which they played zero games at home for the second year, they got together just a week before their first test against the Springboks with just four training sessions available to prepare for test match rugby.

The toll of the season was heavy as head coach Mario Ledesma handed in his resignation last month, a year after the Pumas had managed to take a historic win over the All Blacks and two draws against the Wallabies in their best ever showing in the reduced Tri-Nations tournament.

Former Pumas captain Pablo Matera has shared how Argentinian rugby can change to reach their potential on this week’s Aotearoa Rugby Pod, taking on board what he has learned from both the Crusaders and Jaguares.

“Something I’ve learnt here watching you guys every day [in New Zealand], everything is a process. Things don’t happen from one day to another, everything is a process,” he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel.

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“You need to put in hard work, you need to do repetition, build good habits, try to improve every day.

“Maybe that’s something not in Argentina, I’m talking its not in our country. It’s something we need to work on.”

Matera took positives out of the rise of the Jaguares that showed what Argentinian rugby can do once they have the right structures in place. He said that it took a few years, but once the Jaguares were in rhythm the Pumas finally had ‘stability’.

“Talking just about rugby, we haven’t been stable, never. In the last few years, the first time we were really stable was when we were playing Super Rugby,” he explained.

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“We played for four years, we played the same competition with more or less the same team, for four years. So, it was really a process.”

Looking back on the foundation year, Matera shared just how little the side had to work with. He said the side ‘didn’t know anything’ in that first year, not even having a gym for the players to work out in.

“When we started the competition, we really struggled. We didn’t even know what kind of facilities we needed or how many physios, or how many doctors or conditioning trainers,” he recalled.

“We didn’t know anything. We didn’t even have a gym in the first year. It was all learning, one year to another.

“Every year we got better results, from the first year to the fourth year, we finally made the Final. Every year we made improvements but it was all a process, all about learning, all about getting better.

“I think that’s the way [the Pumas] need to approach this.”

Matera said the coaching turnover that Argentina has had between World Cups makes it hard to reach the level of stability that they need, but also said that the side needs to change their mentality around performing consistently.

They have been too guilty of just looking for ‘one perfect game’ instead of focusing on being better every day and finding continual improvements.

“The last three World Cups, we change coaches one year and a half or two years before a World Cup. It’s hard to really have a process for that,” he said.

“I don’t want to go too deep into it, but I think our mindset for Argentina should be more about process, becoming better every day. Not just try to beat the All Blacks one time, have a perfect game one time.

“We need to be better than the last game, step-by-step. There’s going to be a time when we are going to be a better team and beat all the bigger teams regularly. But we need to work on that process.

“That’s something I really enjoy about being here. Everything here is about process and becoming better, learning from past experience.”

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