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Are Argentina now the best Southern Hemisphere team?

By Ned Lester
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 27: Santiago Carreras of Argentina makes a run with the ball during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina Pumas at Orangetheory Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

So… Argentina are the best team in the southern hemisphere now?

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Argentina’s place in the Rugby Championship was once that of a charming younger brother.

You admire their passion and are genuinely happy for them when they challenge you, because it’s nice to see them grow. You talk about how they have a “bright future” and how they’re a “good kid”.

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Then, they start drinking protein powder and growing a moustache while their clothes appear to shrink by the day. Paddington becomes Chewbacca.

With their most recent win over the All Blacks, the Pumas have entered the phase where they have the audacity to scruff your hair because they know damn well you can’t do squat about it. The days of cheerful playfights are over.

The Springboks are reigning world champions, the All Blacks are the most dominant team in history and yet these famous rivals currently find themselves battling for third place, in a tournament with only four teams.

South Africa is no stranger to dips in form, their fans will remind you of how just a year out from their 2019 World Cup winning efforts, they were losing as many games as they were winning (all is well in hindsight).

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As for New Zealand’s devoted rugby public, they now cling on to the slight, enduring sanity afforded to them by the recital of magic words: “We would be winning if Razor was coach, we would be winning if Razor was coach, we would be winning if…”

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Perhaps the biggest wildcard in the equation is Australia.

They dominated Argentina in bursts during their first Test, enough to come away with a meaningful win. The second Test saw them take a beating, physically and tactically.

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Yet, South Africa come to town and Dave Rennie’s side are a complete rugby team again.

What separates Los Pumas from the pack?

Well, one thing they’re doing well at that the others are struggling with is improving. Week-in, week-out, the Pumas are getting better. Not just being consistent, they’re developing.

The Pumas’ physicality and the NRL mind of their defence coach David Kidwell looks to be a match made in rib-tickling heaven. Channelling a passionate pack of behemoths’ energy into a disciplined, efficient machine that executes 192 tackles of their 200 attempts is a prospect that projects difficulty for any opponent.

The long-range marksmanship of Emiliano Boffelli will see rewards for any infringement within 50 meters, and the accuracy of Santiago Carreras will get you marched back to well within attacking range if the penalty be further back.

Michael Cheika’s mentality has infected the playing group, the coach does not mince his words, nor allow for confidence to be anywhere below that of winning, regardless of the opponent. The contribution of this confidence to an identity of wearing your heart on your sleeve and giving everything for your country makes for a resilient, high-performing mindset. Resilient, because it stays so true to their identity and who the Pumas have always been as a team.

The evolution of the game looks to have played right into the hands of Argentina. The coaches are implementing a game plan that plays to Argentina’s strengths and doesn’t allow the game to stray far from those strengths.

So far, the inconsistency of their opposition has been Argentina’s biggest crutch. They need to play top-level opponents to enter next year’s World Cup as battle-hardened as can be, both the Wallabies and All Blacks have failed them in that. Think about that for a minute: the Pumas need the All Blacks to play better.

For now, they’ll settle for the confidence boost, knowing it’s well earned.

Argentina are by no means through the last of their growing pains, a team like South Africa will feast on their lacklustre set-piece.

That doesn’t mean Chewy won’t steal your lunch.

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