Pu­mas know score when it comes to tar­gets

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

DIS­AP­POINTED as he was on Sun­day evening af­ter los­ing their World Cup semi-fi­nal Agustin Creevy, the cap­tain of Ar­gentina’s Pu­mas was al­ready re-set­ting his sights on en­sur­ing what he and his team-mates had seen as their re­al­is­tic tar­get for the tour­na­ment.

“We are very sad, very sad, but I think there shouldn’t be any re­proach,” he said.

“We have to keep our heads up and think about Fri­day. We want to be in the top three in the world.”

Told that Heyneke Meyer, the coach of South Africa had, 24 hours ear­lier, colour­fully de­scribed play­ing in the third place play-off as ‘like kiss­ing your sis­ter’ in bid­ding to ex­plain his dis­taste for the prospect, Creevy had been be­mused.

“I don’t know why he said that,” he re­sponded. “I would rather be third than fourth.”

Win­ning the World Cup was prob­a­bly be­yond Ar­gentina this time around, al­beit they would doubt­less have a very good crack at it had they man­aged to find a way past Aus­tralia’s Wal­la­bies, which Daniel Hour­cade, their head coach, rightly reck­oned might well have hap­pened had they man­aged, just once, to find their way through the op­pos­ing defence for a try.

In that con­text, then, it could con­ceiv­ably be ar­gued that there was a lack of am­bi­tion in that tar­get of fin­ish­ing in the top three.

How­ever, while ev­ery team goes into ev­ery match try­ing to win, it is ridicu­lous to sug­gest that ev­ery team that qual­i­fies to play in a com­pe­ti­tion should see it­self as po­ten­tial win­ners.

In re­al­ity four teams were en­ti­tled to go into this tour­na­ment believ­ing they should win it, namely those that had won it pre­vi­ously.

That is not sim­ply down to pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, since that would rule against any new win­ner of any com­pe­ti­tion which is, by def­i­ni­tion, daft. How­ever in this in­stance three of them had con­sis­tently been the top three teams in the world in the last decade, while the fourth were hosts and home ad­van­tage in all their key games had the po­ten­tial to work in their favour.

Be­yond that trio three more teams could have made cases for be­ing ca­pa­ble of win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion if favoured by some good for­tune: Three­time fi­nal­ists France have the strong­est do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion in Europe and per­haps the world; Ire­land are Europe’s cham­pi­ons of the pre­vi­ous two years; and Wales have a squad that con­tains and has played in and/or along with play­ers who have re­peat­edly won Grand Slams in the past decade or so.

For all that they fin­ished above South Africa in this year’s Rugby Cham­pi­onship that in it­self was a break­through for the Pu­mas and surely not quite enough to per­suade them that they were ca­pa­ble of beat­ing two of the tra­di­tional big three on suc­ces­sive week­ends.

So, what was clear in Creevy’s sum­ma­tion is that in­ter­nally, with­out a trace of de­featism, they had aimed at fin­ish­ing among the top three at this World Cup, hav­ing iden­ti­fied that as gen­uinely achiev­able, so should they beat the Spring­boks they will be en­ti­tled to cel­e­brate a job well done.

Meyer’s re­ac­tion was, al­beit strangely ex­pressed, sim­i­larly un­der­stand­able be­cause the Spring­boks have earned the right over the past 125 years or so, to ex­pect to win Test matches and tour­na­ments and, like New Zealand, they won this tour­na­ment the first time they en­tered.

How­ever his dis­ap­point­ment and re­peated dis­missal of hav­ing to think about the third-place play-off as ‘loser talk’ re­flects the very dif­fer­ent pres­sure that comes with the ter­ri­tory of be­ing en­ti­tled to ex­pect to win com­pe­ti­tions of this im­por­tance.

For the All Blacks, the Spring­boks and to a slightly lesser ex­tent the Wal­la­bies – tak­ing into ac­count rugby union’s sta­tus in that coun­try where it is the fourth most pop­u­lar win­ter foot­ball code – the only thing to cel­e­brate is lift­ing the tro­phy.

England would prob­a­bly have felt sim­i­larly had they reached the semi­fi­nals, but for any of Ar­gentina, Ire­land and Wales hav­ing a shot at a third-place fin­ish would rep­re­sent an achieve­ment.

In those terms Scot­land are among the few teams that should gen­uinely have had some­thing to cel­e­brate at this tour­na­ment be­cause form and his­tory meant reach­ing the knock­out stages was in strate­gic terms, some­thing that they, like Samoa, Italy, Tonga and, per­haps, Ja­pan, were en­ti­tled to tar­get as a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment.

Once there, of course, they would be en­ti­tled to be­lieve with the best col­lec­tive per­for­mance of their ca­reers, which they pro­duced against Aus­tralia, they could per­haps pro­duce a shock.

As with Ar­gentina aim­ing to beat Aus­tralia for only the third time in the pro­fes­sional era and then either New Zealand for the first time ever or South Africa for the sec­ond time in 23 meet­ings, do­ing so on three suc­ces­sive week­ends was be­yond the wildest dream or any­one with a proper strate­gic grasp of what was achiev­able.

To say so does not rep­re­sent a lack of am­bi­tion, it re­flects an un­der­stand­ing, shared with the vast ma­jor­ity of, if not all knowl­edge­able peo­ple in Scot­tish rugby, of what the cur­rent squad should have been aim­ing for and were en­ti­tled to be sat­is­fied if not nec­es­sar­ily de­lighted, at hav­ing achieved, just as the highly im­pres­sive Pu­mas will be if they win to­mor­row night.

TO­MOR­ROW Su­san Egelstaff

“It is ridicu­lous to sug­gest that ev­ery team that qual­i­fies to play in a com­pe­ti­tion should see it­self as po­ten­tial win­ners

STAND­ING TALL: A de­jected but proud Agustin Creevy heads down the Twick­en­ham tun­nel af­ter the Pu­mas missed out on a World Cup fi­nal ap­pear­ance

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