Pu­mas rugby needs a re-boot start­ing with new se­lec­tion pol­icy

The Rugby Paper - - Autumn Internationals - BREN­DAN GAL­LAGHER

Pa­tience is a virtue – as the Pu­mas dis­cov­ered when they went through 30 phases at the death for their con­so­la­tion try – and Ar­gentina must some­how re­mem­ber that and re­main sto­ical and calm af­ter a match in which noth­ing much went right.

It’s been a mis­er­able year of con­sis­tent un­der-achieve­ment but the Pu­mas must keep go­ing for an­other fort­night yet and then have a re-think.

They never re­ally threat­ened to win yes­ter­day and didn’t de­serve to nick a vic­tory – not that de­serv­ing has any­thing to do with it – but bizarrely they could have de­parted Twick­en­ham in tri­umph.

In­stead they have now lost 16 con­sec­u­tive games to Tier One op­po­si­tion which is an ap­palling record for a team that has reached the semi-fi­nals in two of the last three World Cups. Yes they do in­vari­ably dip be­tween World Cups but this feels a bit omi­nous.

They squan­dered 14 points yes­ter­day with un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally dodgy goal-kick­ing and were on the wrong end of just about ev­ery 50-50 call. Their no-arms tack­les got pe­nalised, Eng­land’s didn’t. The Pu­mas got told to play the ball when they were per­fectly le­git­i­mately march­ing scrum pos­ses­sion for­ward, Eng­land didn’t.

It was all a bit odd and if they had won it could be dis­missed with a wave of a hand but they lost yet again and there will be chunter­ing in the Pu­mas camp. As ever the ref­eree made no at­tempt to com­mu­ni­cate in any­thing other than loudly shouted English.

The Pu­mas also had grounds for com­plaint in the yel­low card awarded against Joaquin Tu­culet in the first half. First, Tu­culet chal­lenged for and touched the ball at ex­actly the same time as the un­for­tu­nate Mike Brown and sec­ondly the Pu­mas full-back, trav­el­ling at speed, had in any case been pushed il­le­gally by An­thony Wat­son which un­bal­anced him.

Pu­mas skip­per Agustin Creevy went to some lengths to ex­plain all this but was ig­nored. The fair call would have been a penalty to the Pu­mas for the Wat­son push which pre­ceded ev­ery­thing else.

Mean­while on an Amer­i­can Foot­ball pitch – the RFU for some rea­son had ne­glected to hide the mark­ings from their money mak­ing NFL ex­trav­a­ganza two weeks ago – Eng­land re­ally shouldn’t have been al­lowed to get away with Henry Slade’s for­ward pass which set Semesa Roko­duguni for a try, pop­u­lar as that score was for a serv­ing of­fi­cer in HM Ser­vices on Armistice Day.

Slade knew from the off that it was for­ward, as did Nigel Owens 70 yards away on the op­po­site touchline. Of course the game wants to see tries but not at all costs or else it loses its in­tegrity. Rugby should also re­ward those who know how to pass back­wards un­der pres­sure; who can re­ceive un­der pres­sure; who know how to stand back a lit­tle and time their runs bet­ter.

Our ob­ses­sion with the flat ball – there is ac­tu­ally no such thing be­cause a flat ball au­to­mat­i­cally goes for­ward – is al­low­ing way too many dodgy tries to be awarded.

All the above pro­vided mit­i­ga­tion and some­thing to whinge about for Ar­gentina but can­not be used as an ex­cuse for an­other ster­ile dis­play.

They have got them­selves in a right mess at fly-half where they sud­denly no longer trust Ni­co­las Sanchez and have rushed into ser­vice the once great but, alas, now too fal­li­ble, Juan Martin

Her­nan­dez. The lat­ter was also given goal-kick­ing du­ties close in and missed two sit­ters.

Up front they had a plan to mon­ster Eng­land, hence the se­lec­tion of gi­ant lock Mar­cos Kre­mer as one of the most un­likely open­sides in mod­ern his­tory, and al­though their li­ne­out re­mained im­pres­sive it didn’t re­ally work.

Find­ing a nat­u­ral seven has be­come the ‘holy grail’ for Eng­land and its a big stum­bling block for the Pu­mas as well.

But the big­gest prob­lem for the Pu­mas is en­tirely self-in­flicted. They re­ally do need to re-as­sess their en­tire pol­icy to­wards se­lect­ing play­ers based over­seas which cur­rently states, if I fol­low it cor­rectly, that they are in­el­i­gi­ble ex­cept for the World Cup.

That sim­ply isn’t vi­able go­ing for­ward. Ar­gentina, with their na­tion­wide acad­e­mies pro­duc­ing a con­veyor belt of young tal­ent, have a wealth of gifted play­ers with in­ter­na­tional as­pi­ra­tions who are wor­thy of pro­fes­sional con­tracts, yet, to date, have just one out­let, the Jaguares who can em­ploy 40-45 play­ers.

It’s not enough. The Pu­mas could man three Su­per Rugby teams yet keep get­ting fobbed of with prom­ises that the tour­na­ment will ex­pand one day soon to ac­com­mo­date them. I doubt very much if that will ever hap­pen.

The best of the as­pi­rants need to be let loose on the mar­ket place, which ef­fec­tively means the T14 and Pre­mier­ship, to hone their skills and learn a host of rugby lessons and tech­niques which they could then bring back into the Pu­mas camp.

That’s where Mario Ledesma, Mau­rice Reg­gia­rdo, Pa­tri­cio Al­bacete, Juan Martin Fer­nan­dez Lobbe, Her­nan­dez and Gus Pi­chot honed their skills. That wan­der­lust and klep­to­ma­nia, that greedy ac­qui­si­tion and mor­ph­ing of skills, was at the heart of ev­ery­thing.

It be­came part of the DNA of a savvy in­de­pen­dently-minded rugby team that learned how to per­form un­der pres­sure

At present there are no new ideas and rugby ex­pe­ri­ences com­ing into the Pu­mas camp, it’s all a bit stale and ‘ground­hog day’ as first the Jaguares trek around the globe and then the very same play­ers clock up more air­miles in Pu­mas colours. Ar­gen­tinian rugby needs to re­boot.

The Novem­ber Test win­dow is set in stone and the same for everybody – they could pick their Euro­pean-based play­ers if they wanted – and al­though there might be avail­abil­ity prob­lems with some of the play­ers early ev­ery sum­mer it is a price well worth pay­ing.

They are cur­rently de­priv­ing them­selves of the ser­vices of Fe­cundo Isa, Mar­cello Bosch, Juan Imhoff and Juan Fi­gallo to name four of the big­ger names star­ring in Europe, while oth­ers are per­form­ing well. Why would you do that?

Mis­fir­ing: Juan Martin Her­nan­dez

Harsh yel­low: Joaquin Tu­culet clashes with Mike Brown

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