Rugby World Cup
New attacking Pumas identity the legacy of Sir Graham Henry
Patricio Connolly
October 9, 2015
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BURTON UPON TRENT -- The Pumas have always been recognised for their dedication, their defence and their tackling. But recently, and especially now in Rugby World Cup 2015, they have been playing the game with a different style.

More than ever in their World Cup appearances, they are a team with an ambitious attacking game. The dawn of this new era came with New Zealand's Graham Henry, when he worked with Santiago Phelan's staff in 2012 and 2013, and it has deepened since Daniel Hourcade took over two years ago. They are the architects of this new identity.

Graham Henry turns up for Argentina training, Wellington, New Zealand, September 4, 2012
Sir Graham Henry © Getty Images
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On entering the Rugby Championship, the Argentine team had to catch up with the best. And the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) decision to hire Henry, who had become world champion with the All Blacks a few months before, was quite successful. With his wisdom and simplicity, he started leading the way.

"He told us what was coming," said Raul Perez, Hourcade's assistant coach. "That plays are sparked by individuals, and that we had to work harder on their skills. He said that England wanted to play like New Zealand, but didn't have what it takes, individually. He left a mark."

Hourcade also values Henry's contribution: "He helped us realise that our problem was simple and easy. It should have been something basic. If the ball isn't passed correctly, there is no system that can work. When the individual action is not good, nothing can work. It's not a magical solution. We couldn't perform before because the skills weren't properly trained."

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Another piece of Henry's advice was to work on the breakdown, making it a priority so as to be able to carry out the game plan. "After the first match in La Plata against the All Blacks, he said: 'You had all the lineouts and the scrums, and what did you do?'," Perez said. "Then we understood that when attacking and defending, the ball on the ground is really important."

Hourcade added: "We couldn't ruck in less than three seconds, make passes on the face of the defence. What we did with Graham was lowering the level of information to the players. Keeping four or five weapons and becoming as efficient as possible. Since then, we have been working on doing the smallest things right."

There were two years - 2012 and 2013 - when progress was made, and the basis for everything that came afterwards was established. Hourcade, who took office in November 2013, played a key role in that process. "Hourcade's great emphasis on instilling the team with the need of having the ball and attacking was very important, as it always brings a chance of inflicting uncertainty to the opposing defense," Perez said.

© Michael Steele/Getty Images

Marcos Ayerza, one of the players who had to adapt to the changes, said: "The idea of having simple structures, but with a more aggressive attacking mindset, began with Henry. And Hourcade continued and deepened that style. This is imperative in the level of rugby we play. You cannot have a conservative defensive game because you have to go for the result against the best teams. These years in the Rugby Championship have helped us make the transition into this version."

Different was the case of Facundo Isa and all the young players who developed through the UAR's High Performance Plan. "I've always had the new system in my head because I trained with it. It's easy for us because we have been working on it for a long time," said the player born in Santiago del Estero.

Hourcade imposed his style, and the group bought into it. "I follow it because I believe in it. I'm convinced. I believe in this system and I always did," Isa said.

Today the Pumas are living a different World Cup, in which they are considered one of the teams with more resolve to attack and play. That is definitely their signature.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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