Ledesma all about Argentina on the Gold Coast

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

In his many years with Michael Cheika in Australia, Mario Ledesma came to regard the Wallabies as family. But there was never any doubt about Argentina being his home.

So much so that when Australia played the Pumas he would sing one anthem only. And it wasn't Advance Australia Fair.

“I never sung the Australian anthem before the game, I did it after every victory in the changing room but I always sang my anthem,” he said on Friday.

“I love the Australian anthem though and I know at least 90 per cent of the words.

“When we were playing Argentina with the Wallabies I used to sing my anthem.”

Ledesma was no double-agent - he was a dedicated member of the Wallabies staff and helped the Wallabies to six victories over his beloved Pumas, including in the World Cup semi-finals.
Mario Ledesma was as passionate as anyone about the Wallabies. Photo: Getty ImagesIndeed, it was only at Cheika's urging that he sang Argentina's anthem.

"I remember when we went to Mendoza to play in the Rugby Championships and we were walking up the stairs before the match and I said to him ‘are you going to sing your anthem?’... And he wasn’t sure if he was allowed or not,” Cheika said in 2015.

“I said, ‘of course, that’s your heritage’ and I want him to love that. But I know he loves this team."

After returning to Argentina late last year to coach the Jaguares, Ledesma was promoted to coach the Pumas at the end of June, setting up his first clash against Cheika and his former Wallabies charges. 

Ledesma's past won't see him pause a moment when it comes to using his intimate knowledge of the Wallabies against them.

“Knowing them it is an advantage but in terms of the moves, I'm sure they're going to prepare something special for us,” he said.

“I remember the last couple of games we (Australia) won like six in a row, seven in a row against us (Argentina) and many, many of the tries came from first phase so we've been looking closely at the first phase moves but I always thought that Australia was the best team in the world in first phase so it's going to be a challenge.”

Ledesma’s time coaching with Cheika also gave him a unique insight into the Wallaby coach’s mindset, including his keenness on a fluid lineup.

So, when asked whether Israel Folau would be an extra Wallabies weapon on the wing, Ledesma’s response was to suggest that the wing wouldn’t be the only spot he played on Saturday.

“We're expecting that but even if he was at fullback the way Cheik likes to coach his teams, he moves them around and he shows you one picture and then gives you another.

“So, we'll see tomorrow if he's on the wing or fullback.”

Folau’s return makes the Wallabies look more dangerous in the backline but they were dealt another late blow on Friday with Michael Hooper (hamstring) ruled out.

This is the third Test in the past four where the Aussies have ruled a player out after naming the team, with three changes in the final 36 hours forced in Brisbane last week.

Ledesma said another reshuffle could actually play into the Wallabies’ hands on Saturday, with their experience dealing with adversity.

“I know that they've been having problems (with late changes) the last couple of weeks, it's been weird. I told Cheik he has to see a witch or something with all the injuries, (so many) ruling out at the last minute and stuff,” he laughed.

“That obviously helps the cohesion in the team too, when you're fighting all that stuff it makes you really dangerous.

“So, by no means is it a negative, I think that the guy that's going to come in is going to take his opportunity.”

The Wallabies take on the Pumas on Saturday September 15 at Cbus Super Stadium, kicking off at 8pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Channel Ten, Macquarie Radio and RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.