Passionate, powerful Argentina are clear and present danger
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.