The Pumas are training at Portobello Rugby Club. You wouldn’t catch the All Blacks there. They were originally due at Edinburgh University’s Peffermill ground, but that was switched to Merchiston Castle School and they fetched up at Porty, with little by way of explanation.
They are a hardy lot this Argentina squad and they need to win with just two wins in their last 12 outings, although one of those was against South Africa, the other against Australia, so they are obviously doing something right.
I ask assistant coach Gonzalo Quasada if I can watch the training session and he replies that I am welcome. They are so bad, he explains with a smile, it really doesn’t matter.
This is harsh and he knows it. First up Argentina’s Super Rugby side Los Jaguares are touring as the Pumas, with just one additional player, Bordeaux’s lock Mariano Galarza, who must feel a little out of kilter with his team- mates. In addition, Argentina pushed Ireland close in Dublin two weeks ago and, in retrospect, that 28-17 loss (it was a one-point game until the 66th minute) was a good result considering what Ireland did next.
“We were close,” says winger Sebastian Cancelliere. “We pushed them to the limit but we lost in the last 20 minutes and I think that great teams make the difference in that last 20 minutes, so we have to improve. We played an excellent game for 60 minutes but that is not enough at this level.”
Cancelliere started the match the last time these two teams met, in Resistencia last June, when the Scots ran in six tries and ran away with the match. That was the last game the Pumas played under head coach Daniel Hourcade and the new boss, Mario Ledesma, not only earned those two Rugby Championship victories but he seems to have installed a new sense of purpose into this Pumas squad.
“Yes, yes the coach has changed,” says Cancelliere. “That was a tough game for us, two tough games for us. We had a great season under Mario (Ledesma) with the Jaguares and then we lost all three games to European nations (Wales twice and Scotland). We had three bad games and that one against Scotland was really bad. We don’t want to repeat.
“The spirits are good. We know we are in the correct path. It’s been a year of changes but besides the losses to Ireland and France, we know we are in the correct path. These games we are using to improve our systems.
“Always when you win spirits are better and training is different but we are in the correct path. We know it’s going to be difficult and we know we are playing against great nations. Scotland has improved a lot this year and had a great Six Nations. We know that this type of rugby is not Super Rugby but we trust in our systems and, if we do the things we say and we practise, we are going to thrive.”
The Argentina squad has always been tight, just watch them belt out the national anthem if you doubt it, but one incident has perhaps caused them to bond that little bit closer. Following the Ireland match, one of their number, lock Marcos Kremer, had to return home in a hurry as his partner, previously diagnosed with leukaemia, turned seriously ill. She passed away on Monday.
“Kremer had to return home on the week of the Ireland game,” recalls Cancelliere. “It was a very difficult moment for the whole team. When we go back we’re going to be very close to Marcos, but we are not going to use that as an excuse (for losing) or extra motivation for this match.”