Argentina have made 11 changes to their starting lineup for their match with South Africa in Pretoria this weekend.
Coach Mario Ledesma resisted chopping and changing his side too much in the Rugby Championship, relying on his first-choice players to get the job done. Despite looking competitive at times, the Pumas were well-accounted for by the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks.
Now, Ledesma’s side find themselves sitting in 11th in the world rankings – one spot higher than their worst ever placing. Whilst the merits of the rankings can be endlessly debated – few probably believe that Japan or Fiji are better teams than Argentina – it’s indicative of the Pumas’ continued slide down the rankings.
Argentina tend to peak during the World Cup, when double points are on offer, which boosts their placing every four years. There’s then an inevitable drop down the ladder once normal business resumes.
This weekend’s rematch between the Pumas and the Springboks will be the last hit-out for Argentina against a top tier team before the World Cup kicks off in a month. Argentina’s first match of the tournament will see them jostling with France for a spot in the quarter-finals. Lose that match and it will be very difficult for South America’s premier side to make the knockout rounds.
As such, Ledesma has presented a number of players with the opportunity to press their claim for a seat on the plane to Japan, as well as potentially a spot in the matchday squad to take on France.
An entirely new tight five will take the field on Saturday, comprised of hooker Julian Montoya, props Mayco Vivas and Santiago Medrano, and locks Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini. Vivas will be making his international debut and arguably has the most to play for of anyone in the run-on side. The Pumas scrum has been hugely disappointing in recent times and Vivas has the opportunity to catapult himself into the frame for the World Cup if he can muster a good showing.
There’s a small shakeup in the backrow, with Javier Ortega Desio shifting from the back of the scrum to the openside flank. Toulouse rep Facundo Isa returns to the side after last playing in the loss to the Wallabies.
The inexperienced duo of Felipe Ezcurra (1 cap) and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla (2 caps) will take over in the halves. 30-year-old Diaz Bonilla was the main playmaker for the Jaguares this season, guiding them to a spot in the final, but has had few opportunities on the international stage. Regular first five Nicolas Sanchez has underwhelmed for the Pumas in his three appearances this year after shifting north to Stade Francais.
In the midfield, Jeronimo de la Fuente shifts out a position to centre, allowing debutant Lucas Mensa to slot in at 12.
The major talking point in the reserves is the inclusion of the uncapped Santiago Carreras. Carreras was dangerous off the bench for the Jaguares during Super Rugby and will be hoping to provide similar impact for the national squad.
A victory isn’t necessary for the Pumas this weekend, even though the Springboks are fielding a completely different side to the team that was so impressive last weekend. Ledesma will simply be hoping to give some time to players who haven’t featured significantly this year and see what they’re capable of. Of course, an improved performance from last year’s weak showing won’t go amiss.
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