Behold the next two pivotal instalments of the Eddie Jones vs Michael Cheika saga
Who wouldn’t love to see ol’ Eddie Jones’ notes on Los Pumas, their first opponents come November? And also first opponents in RWC 2023.
Maybe his wise rugby brain and the fact that Argentina coach Michael Cheika is a former team-mate at Randwick and that their paths have crossed many times before in the test-arena before, gives the Aussie coach of England a better clue about the Pumas coached by the other Aussie coach.
It is hard, having already played nine tests, to put together a report card for these 2022 Pumas. By December, there will be a clearer view.
Truth is, the team was competitive throughout the season, yet seldom managed the complete full-match performance.
Regardless of the current state of the team, Cheika was wise in explaining the two goals they collectively had to pursue: short term (as in prepare for the next game) and long term (as in looking towards Rugby World Cup).
In the first of the stated goals, the team had some good things and some bad.
The most worrying aspect was that they were plagued by inconsistency, and that towards the latter part of The Rugby Championship, they fell into the traps laid by opponents and gave away far too many penalties.
The last game against South Africa in Durban had the displeasure of seeing four yellow cards – none of them to serial offender Tomás Lavanini to find something positive about this.
Playing forty minutes one man short is bad enough but at least with a red card, teams can quickly adapt to the absence of whomever was sent-off. Yellow cards demand a constant adaptation as two flankers, a centre and a prop were in the naughty boy box for 10 minutes against the Boks.
The first three games for Argentina showed that they can keep their penalty count down – two of those ended in wins. Why they dropped those high standards down will be a matter of deep analysis by Cheika and his crowd; how to get Los Pumas to give away penalties will be one of Jones’ goals.
Jones will have to also come up with ideas on how to stop a pack of forwards that when on the roll are quite formidable and unstoppable.
And even with the ball in hand, they will meet with a constant wall of defence.
Juan Martín González, the 22 year-old flanker probably the best Puma, brought 54 players down, also scoring four tries. The last, a gem, sending Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux chasing shadows in the Durban night.
With the confirmed unavailability of Guido Petti, who failed to earn a starting spot but is certainly one of the key players in the team, Argentina will travel to England, Wales and Scotland aiming to continue growing slowly but steadily towards France 2023.
There are still many unanswered questions. One is: who will play at number 10? Santiago Carreras has been the preferred choice since last year; Nicolás Sánchez (who missed out through injury) and Benjamín Urdapilleta (joined the squad later because of injury) are well into their 30s.
If Carreras is to take the pivotal role in France next year, it would be important to see him playing in that position at Gloucester, although the club has been reluctant, saying they hired him to play fullback or wing.
With Emiliano Boffelli on the field, and Carreras not needing to focus on goal kicking, the combination will work.
A good club season by scrumhalves Gonzalo Bertranou and Tomás Cubelli is crucial as none took ownership of the number 9 jersey.
The team had no time to debrief after Durban, with Cheika departing straight away to his new home in France. Players are already back in their clubs and will only get together when they all fly or drive into London for the first Autumn international.
They will need to be ready to face the music right away as they won’t have the luxury of time. Waiting for him, not ready to share toasts with vegemite, will be Eddie Jones. All of Coogee Beach will watch in interest as the rest of the world in the dress rehearsal of a game that could define Rugby World Cup next year.
That, will be one of the many challenges Cheika and Co. face in the next eleven months as they gear towards France 2023.
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