Argentina to start with unchanged team against Scotland

Argentina's coach Daniel Hourcade expects a better showing from his team than they displayed last week in Wales. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty
Argentina's coach Daniel Hourcade expects a better showing from his team than they displayed last week in Wales. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty
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Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade has put his trust in the same side that lost to Wales last weekend, although that reversal only arrived after the Pumas had flown half-way around the world from Japan.

The hugely gifted stand-off Nicolas Sanchez will make his 50th appearance in that distinctive blue-and-white-striped shirt.

There are two changes to the bench. The veteran breakaway Juan Manuel Leguisemon returns to the action while Juan Pablo Estelles, a winger from the amateur ranks of Rosario, could make the big step on to the international stage come Saturday.

Hourcade appears to tell us his team in person but can only do so once his teeth have stopped chattering. The coach mimics shivering but there is no need. He has almost disappeared into the warmth of his jacket and orders a coffee into which he pours three large sugars before he begins to thaw out.

“We had a bad game against Wales,” Hourcade says via an interpreter, “but we have picked the same team because I am confident in these players. They are part of the system and have been working with us. I am confident in them because any player can have a bad game.

“In Cardiff we were not able to put our systems on to the field, we kicked a lot. Wales put a lot of pressure on us and there were times when we did not take the initative.

“It is clear that the way we played against Wales is not the way we are used to playing so we hope against Scotland that we can develop our game plan. We also have to take into account the weather, which is important.”

These Pumas are nothing if not unpredictable, as they proved last summer. In the space of just six days they beat France by three tries to one in Tucuman and then lost to the same opposition on the same ground by three tries to nil the following weekend.

Since taking over in 2013 Hourcade is managing no better than a 31 per cent success rate but since the Pumas now play in the Rugby Championship the numbers can be misleading. Argentina beat South Africa in the foothills of the Andes and should have done the double on the road in Nelspruit when they imploded in the final ten minutes and watched a ten-point lead transform into a seven-point defeat.

Argentina were also neck and neck with the All Blacks in Hamilton on the 50-minute mark before the home team found another gear in the final half hour.

The Pumas’ results are all the more impressive when you remember that they have taken the decision not to select players who play in Europe. Despite conceding seven scrum penalties to Wales, Leicester’s peerless prop Marcos Ayerza was never going to get the nod this week.

“When they take a decision of that kind, you have many arguments and many issues that you have to analyse,” says Hourcade in defence of the policy. “Perhaps it is not the best option for this moment but it is when you consider what is going to come.

“What could not happen is that we continued in the way we were before. That is clear, and now players know they have to make a decision whether they want to stay and whether they want to play [for Argentina].

“It is our first season in Super Rugby and it is very important to have the players playing at home. We need to have a bigger base of players, which we do not have yet. We have many good players but not enough with experience in high-performance competition. In time, we will fix that.

“The first year, it was very important that our players were based in Argentina.”

The crux will come, according to one Argentina journalist, when players with the earning potential of the 6ft 4in winger Manuel Montero (currently injured) are out of contract at the end of next season. Should he and a few other big names quit Argentina and the country’s Super Rugby side, the Jaguares, Hourcade may be forced into a re-think.

For now his thoughts are on tomorrow’s opposition and, having seen his side lose twice to the Wallabies, Hourcade heaps praise on the Scottish team which pushed them to the wire.

“They played a really good game,” says the Pumas coach. “Sometimes they [Scotland] can play better than at other times but at the moment they are in a good place. They showed their capacity and what they can do, they are a team that can beat any team.

“They play with structure, it is a type of game that we enjoy, they move the ball and the players run good lines. We expected it to be a good game.”

It certainly was two years ago. When these two teams last met at Murrayfield in 2004 they shared a total of nine tries before the Scots finished on the right side of the 41-31 final score. It was, Hourcade concedes, a painful lesson for his young side.

“We came here after beating Australia and we thought that was enough and Scotland put us in our place.

“It was a great lesson and a reason why we cannot be over confident, not just against Scotland but against any team. I have very good memories from Scotland but not of the game.”

The lesson seems to have been hammered home because the same Pumas side went on to beat Italy and France.

And Argentina won’t be using the time difference between Cardiff and Edinburgh as an excuse should they lose his weekend?

“We are used to the time difference,” replies Hourcade, “but it is real ly tough to get used to the weather!”