Mario Ledesma says his team are taking a “no excuses” approach into their first Test of their year, as they get set to take on the All Blacks on Saturday in Sydney.
While the All Blacks and Wallabies have played four Tests, including back to back Tri Nations fixtures in Australia, the Pumas have been training for the best of a month in Sydney ahead of their first Test since being knocked out during the group stages of last year’s World Cup in Japan.
Since then, Argentina’s players have been forced to play a waiting game.
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Unlike Australia and New Zealand, who got their respective Super Rugby competitions up and running, Argentina were unable to play and domestic games as the nation was hit hard by the COVID pandemic.
Even to get to Sydney, Argentina had to quarantine in Uruguay for two weeks before being forced to quarantine in Australia for another two weeks upon arrival.
Although Ledesma’s men were able to train, they had to eat separately and inside their hotel rooms.
But all along the former Wallabies scrum coach under Michael Cheika, who played 84 Tests for his nation, has spoken at length of the fortunate position that they are in to be able to play rugby when their home nation is gripped by the coronavirus and is in lockdown.
Ledesma said he hoped that the extended time the team had shared together would pay off on the field.
“It definitely has brought us closer together,” he said at his team naming on Thursday.
“In the last three months we’ve been together 24/7, we haven’t been with our families for a while now. Some of the boys have been away from their families for the last four months, so it’s definitely brought us closer together, and obviously the tough times either separate you or bring you together. For us, it has been great.
“We’ve had a lot of time to discuss what we from this team, where we want to take it and take the jersey forward and we discussed a lot around culture and identity, so we really profited from enduring this situation to create a culture.”
The Pumas have won two friendly fixtures against Australian A opposition.
Even still, they head into their opening Tri Nations fixture – the first of four Tests played over consecutive weeks – as heavy outsiders.
Ledesma has named an experienced side, with inside centre Santiago Chocobares the only debutant.
Loose-forward Santiago Grondona and inside back Lucio Cinti are also in-line to make their debuts off the bench.
Blindside flanker Pablo Matera once again captains the side, which is stacked with World Cup experience including halves Tomas Cubelli and Nico Sanchez.
Juan Imhoff makes his return on the wing.
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Former Wallabies coach Cheika has been with the Pumas since they touched down in Australia as a coaching consultant.
Ledesma said that his long-time coaching ally and friend had made a significant difference to the South Americans.
“He came in really humble and has helped us a lot,” Ledesma said.
“Just being himself, being creative and he has a lot of experience playing against New Zealand too. (He also has) a lot of international experience and maybe not having the pressure of being the boss and thinking about rugby has allowed his creativity (to shine through), so it’s been really good to work with Cheik the last couple of weeks.”
The All Blacks have named what appears to be their first-choice side, with halves Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga being rushed back in following their 24-22 loss against the Wallabies in Bledisloe IV.
PUMAS (1-15): Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Julian Montoya, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Guido Petti, Matias Alemanni, Pablo Matera (c), Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Tomas Cubelli, Nicolas Sanchez, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Chocobares, Matias Orlando, Bautista Delguy, Santiago Carreras,
RESERVES: Facundo Bosch, Mayco Vivas, Santago Medrano, Santiago Grondona, Tomas Lezana, Gonzalo Bertranou, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Cordero