England v Argentina
The pride and passion of the Pumas
November 6, 2013
England's Tom May won his two caps against Argentina back in 2009 and is better qualified than most to talk about the threat of the Pumas © PA Photos
A challenge awaits England at Twickenham this weekend. A very big challenge. Los Pumas roll into south west London on Saturday afternoon and the English nation expects, but what awaits them is totally different to the Wallabies.
Ranked 10th in the IRB rankings at present, you might expect the Argentinians to turn up and roll over with England running riot. However, the South Americans have come along way since 1990 when a 19-year-old Federico Mendez laid out Paul Ackford at the back of a ruck. That was as close Argentina would come back then to winning.
But now, passionate and impressively powerful, the vast majority of the Pumas players can be seen at many of the top European clubs. Names like Fernandez, Lobbe, Bosch, Imhoff, Albacete and Ayerza will have been heard all over the globe and some have become arguably the best in the world - Juan Martin Hernandez and Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe. Unfortunately, both are missing. But underestimate the squad arriving this week and England will pay for it.
Argentina's inclusion in The Rugby Championship has exposed them to levels of performance that perhaps they are, as yet, not totally comfortable with but you can be sure the tournament will have a huge bearing on the improvement we will see over the next few years.
Combine this new found level of performance with the burning passion and pride and they become a dangerous side. Passion and pride play a huge part in any Latin American sport and rugby is no different. The sight of huge front-row forwards bawling their eyes out during the national anthem is something to treasure. It's hugely refreshing to see what it means to these guys and no matter what the fixture, the opportunity to turn out in the light blue and white is something that is not lost on the individuals selected.
Whilst on the subject of crying during the anthems, it was fantastic to see Billy Vunipola with tears streaming down his face on Saturday against Australia, I just hope it means as much again this weekend. I've no doubt it will.
England won back-to-back Tests against Argentina in the summer © Getty Images
One thing is for sure, from one to fifteen, England need to be ready to match this passion and pride because I think their superior skills, structure and understanding will bring them home. If it is missing, it will be a very tough afternoon.
Reading about the rumours of a rift in camp and the departure of head coach Santiago Phelan, we could think Argentina will arrive with minds not 100% focussed. However, a pressurised situation like this can work in one of two ways for them. It could create divisions and lead to the destruction of the team spirit or it could just as easily galvanize Leguizamon's side into action. Given the nature of the English fixture, the history between the two countries - which is certainly a motivation - and the culture within the Argentinians, I think I know what will come at England on Saturday.
The set piece is traditionally where Argentinians earn their money. Eating all those amazing steaks whilst growing up has clearly had an effect. I have never seen so many big men playing rugby. South American forwards are some of the biggest, most aggressive around and are not to be messed with. They simply love the scrum and names like Ledesma, Mendez, Hasan, Roncero and Scelzo are linked intrinsically to the set piece. For Argentina, it is an integral part to their game, it is an opportunity to use their natural strength to channel the undeniable passion they have and drive it into the heart of an opposition.
England need a massive scrum focus at the weekend and the timely return to fitness of Alex Corbisiero is a fantastic boost. I feel we may also see a return to the starting line up for Dylan Hartley who did well to steady the ship in the set piece last weekend against Australia. Tom Youngs wasn't 100% convincing at scrum time and this is an area that needs to be totally water tight this weekend.
Focussing on what sides do traditionally is a dangerous thing though in rugby and it is safe to say that Argentina now have players capable of doing extensive damage to the England defence across the board, not just at the scrum and line-out. Their attacking capabilities out wide have improved greatly since I played against them in 2009. Back then, at Old Trafford in the first Test, Hernandez put up high ball after high ball and sent Lobbe and Leguizamon haring after it and to be fair, they are probably up there as the best in the world at getting the ball back when doing that.
For years, pressuring opposition is what they have relied on through a precise and focussed kicking game. That game plan has developed along with the players themselves and we regularly see players like Marcelo Bosch and Gonzalo Tiesi creating space for others to run into. The England wingers will certainly not only be fielding high balls but defending for their lives against this mob.
One area that has come in for much attention since Saturday's game is the England midfield. Owen Farrell was not up to his normal standard but we don't often see him have play like this twice in a row. He should start again. Many will say that there is an argument for both centres to be changed but Joel Tomkins was making his debut and he did well enough to deserve another chance. He has the ability to make offloads under huge amounts of pressure and if England are to develop their game someone like him could prove a major cog in the attacking wheel.
Billy Twelvetrees won't be happy about his performance and is under huge pressure from Luther Burrell of Northampton Saints. The obvious thing would be to give Burrell his opportunity against Argentina but Stuart Lancaster has some of the best management skills within the game and his approach to the way he leads his team leads me to the conclusion he will stick with Twelvetrees. He is in credit, he played well last year and went on the Lions tour, one bad game does not mean he is bad player. Discarding him now may do more harm than good and I think that is why Lancaster has shown faith in him.
Whoever plays, they are guaranteed to know they have been in a game come Sunday morning. Physicality, passion and desire are the basis of Argentina's game and England need to fight fire with fire and implement their own plan on the game so that players like Leguizamon and Bosch don't get in behind the defence.
It is going to be very interesting to see how Argentina play at the weekend. They undoubtedly have a huge amount of talent within their squad but, a bit like the French, it could be a case of which Argentina arrives and if the off field fuss has had an impact. But more than anything, I'm looking forward to seeing tears of pride and passion roll down the faces of some of the toughest men in the game.
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