Pas­sion­ate, pow­er­ful Ar­gentina are clear and present dan­ger

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

in par­tic­u­lar stands out and it hap­pened be­fore kick-off in the Ar­gentina-france game.

As the Pu­mas XV came out of their chang­ing room to head onto the pitch against France they were met by the re­serves. Crowded in a nar­row tun­nel, there was al­most no room to move. Jump­ing up and down, the re­serves’ eyes were out on stalks, the play­ers were scream­ing, forc­ing the start­ing XV to fight their way through them and onto the field.

The first bat­tle that night was to make it onto the pitch. To take your head and your body to a state of readi­ness that knows no lim­its, no bound­aries. I was ready to play just watch­ing it on the TV.

Ar­gentina will match any­one for emo­tion, even if they are far from per­fect be­cause their pas­sion does not al­ways trans­late into ac­cu­racy and aware­ness of space.

For the open­ing 40 min­utes against France they were at their er­ror-rid­den worst. But they found a way to emerge from the chang­ing room a sec­ond time a dif­fer­ent team. They have spent enough time in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship as the un­der­dogs to know that the score­board will of­ten be against them, but they have learnt to sur­vive, to scrap.

To­day, in this World Cup, Ar­gentina are des­per­ate again. They have lost one game – when Emil­iano Bof­felli missed a penalty to beat France – and a side who have made the semi-fi­nals in two of the past three World Cups are on the brink of be­ing knocked out in the group stages.

The close scores from the sum­mer, cou­pled with the France score in the first game, tells us that this is a dan­ger­ous Ar­gentina team, es­pe­cially when they face an Eng­land side who have pre­pared beau­ti­fully and look well or­gan­ised but still have that ques­tion mark hang­ing over their abil­ity to win games when plan A does not work.

Ar­gentina, mean­while, have a his­tory of de­liv­er­ing big mo­ments – and big up­sets – at World Cups. On the open­ing night of the 2007 tour­na­ment, at Stade de France, 80,000 peo­ple saw them ruin the hosts’ party with a 17-12 win. Then, at the 2015 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal in Cardiff, in a city painted green for the day, Ar­gentina bat­tered Ire­land 43-20.

In the mid­field the Pu­mas have play­ers who look as if they will run through brick walls. The aptly named Jeron­imo de la Fuente and Ma­tias Or­lando are tough and will rel­ish Manu Tuilagi try­ing to take them on.

Ar­gentina have al­ways been the bravest and best tech­ni­cal tack­lers in the game and these guys main­tain that tra­di­tion.

In the back three, Ma­tias Moroni, a con­verted cen­tre who plays like Jack Now­ell off his wing, charges up the mid­dle, car­ries hard and smashes any­one who runs at him, while in San­ti­ago Car­reras they have raw tal­ent and great pace.

At full-back, you have the tall and grace­ful Bof­felli, who is some­thing of a throw­back. With his long, rangy stride, he hits the line like a train. The ball rarely dies in his grasp.

At No9, To­mas Cubelli is no Agustin Pi­chot, but if you turn your back on this lad, he is gone up a short side or he has pinched your pill. He also has a crack­ing short kick­ing game. In re­cent years, Ar­gentina have not quite had the power up front that they were syn­ony­mous with, but they have some war­riors in Pablo Mat­era, Mar­cos Kre­mer and Javier Ortega De­sio. Coach Mario Ledesma is not afraid to keep his old guard ready for a tense sec­ond half as the game slows. He threw the No2 jer­sey to Ju­lian Mon­toya last week, con­scious of his en­ergy, dy­namism and ball-car­ry­ing, and he scored a first-half hat-trick.

In Ar­gentina’s pack, I have left the best un­til last; Guido Petti in the sec­ond row. His shift against France will match up to any in­di­vid­ual’s ef­fort through­out the en­tirety of this World Cup. He de­liv­ers line-out ex­cel­lence, de­fen­sive power and ball-car­ry­ing strength, and is a tryscor­ing tal­is­man.

Ar­gentina have proved un­able to put to­gether an 80-minute per­for­mance but they have the play­ers to beat Eng­land. Ar­gentina in the first half against Tonga and the sec­ond against France are the side we all fear, full of power, of­fload­ing, gain-line bat­tles, de­coys, ac­cu­racy, kick chases and turnovers.

For Eng­land, the World Cup proper starts to­day, and they could not ask for a more dan­ger­ous op­po­si­tion.

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