Argentinean Rugby
Phelan backs Pumas to impress
ESPNscrum Staff
August 12, 2011
Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez challenges for the ball during their win over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, November 15 2008
If Argentina are to go far in the forthcoming World Cup they will have to do it without star playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez © Getty Images

Argentina boss Santiago Phelan has backed his charges to make the same impact in the forthcoming World Cup as they did back in 2007.

The Pumas were the surprise package of the 2007 edition in France, stunning the hosts on opening night before again turning Les Bleus over in their third place play-off. There were also wins over Ireland and Scotland during their run to the semi-finals as the perceived world order was turned on its head, paving the way for them to join an expanded Tri-Nations from next year.

But those wonderful displays, which prompted the rescheduling of the football 'superclasico' between Boca Juniors and River Plate so it would not clash with the quarter-final win over Scotland, mean that the level of expectation in Argentina is higher than ahead of previous campaigns. Phelan, 37, wants his players to embrace that pressure when their Pool B engagements get under way against Six Nations champions England on September 10.

Argentina's preparations included training camps in Pensacola, Florida and on home soil and former captain Phelan believes his side will arrive in New Zealand ready to fire. "We will be very competitive, we have found aspects of our game that we needed to work on, and we will be able to concentrate during our preparation," he said. "Our (warm-up) match against Wales will feature an Argentina team whose players have been together for 45 days, a team almost ready for the World Cup.

"I want the Pumas go as far as possible. We must target the top sides. Every time the players are close together we are building a team spirit and we are increasingly better physically and technically. I believe that with every passing day we are becoming a stronger team."

The South Americans famously defeated England at Twickenham in 2006, and ran them close in 2009, but Martin Johnson's side have shown steady improvement over the last 12 months and Phelan expects a tough examination when the sides meet in Dunedin.

Argentina also face home union opposition in the form of Scotland during the pool stages and will look to gain revenge for a 2-0 Test series reverse on home soil last summer. "We have seen a lot of England and Scotland," said Phelan, whose side's pool is completed by Georgia and Romania. "England are at a very high level, they are a hard side and are very good physically. We will have to be well prepared and defend very well.

"But it's good that England are our first opponents at the World Cup, it's a great game to look forward to and they are moving in the right direction. But before talking about England, we must focus on our own performance and improvements."

One man Phelan must do without at Otago Stadium is Juan Martin Hernandez. The 29-year-old fly-half was one of the main architects of their 2007 run with his prodigious boot and silky attacking skills, but he has lost his fight to be fit for the tournament after suffering a cruciate ligament injury.

But even without Hernandez, Phelan will have several big names to lead the way. Back-rowers Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon and lock Patricio Albacete will spearhead what looks to be a typically powerful Pumas pack, while Contepomi and Gonzalo Tiesi bring class to the back line.

And Contepomi is confident that the Pumas can beat one of England or Scotland to secure a last-eight berth, and believes facing Wales later this month will be an ideal preparation for the meetings with the Six Nations rivals.

The 68-cap Stade Francais signing said: "I'm convinced if we prepare in an excellent way we could even beat England, which is not to say we are better than them or Scotland. Both countries are above us in the rankings, but that does not mean the Pumas won't qualify for the quarter-finals.

"I'd say the Wales match will be our main game before the start of the Rugby World Cup. It's the key game for us in our preparation for the first game against England and it will be crucial for us, that we have the opportunity to play a great team as well.

"It will be the time we will start to play rugby and to put all of our fitness work and preparation before that game into practice."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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