Powerful Pumas need to focus on strong finish at worlds

BUENOS AIRES (AP) – While Argentina have strength in depth and a powerful pack, they clearly must finish better to reach a first Rugby World Cup final.

 The two-time semifinalist enters the tournament hardened and match-focussed by tough recent encounters, but also frustrated by near misses, at the recent Rugby Championship.

The impression remains that while Argentina can give any team in the world a hard time — physically and tactically — but Los Pumas have fallen short of being genuine title contenders so far.

It could be called a “nearly” team.

If only chances had been taken at this season’s Rugby Championship, for example. Argentina was in good position to secure a first-ever win over New Zealand and could have beaten Australia away.

Instead, those games resulted in narrow defeats. Argentina camped for most of the second half in New Zealand’s half of the pitch in Buenos Aires in July, but flowing moves ended with agonising ball spills near the line in a 20-16 loss.

File photo shows Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez (R) tackled during a Rugby Championship match against Australia. PHOTO: AP

Then, a week after being crushed by South Africa 46-13 at home on August 10, coach Mario Ledesma’s Pumas were within touching distance of a first win away in South Africa since 2015 — holding the Springboks 18-18 with minutes to go — before having a try disallowed and conceding late penalties to lose 24-18.

Those matches highlighted the widespread quality emerging in Argentine club rugby, considering there were different try scorers in each game and four different penalty takers. But in three of the four matches, it was equally evident how wasteful the Argentine attack can be.

For all the efficiency running through the side, led by the ever-assured Nicolás Sánchez at flyhalf, a ruthless edge is lacking.

Emiliano Boffelli is one player hoping to change that, and can be a catalyst in attack from fullback as a fluid runner with good hands. He also has a strong kicking game from distance as he showed with a penalty from halfway against the All Blacks.

The 24-year-old Boffelli is one of many in Argentina’s squad who play their club rugby for the Jaguares in the international Super Rugby competition. In fact, Sánchez is one of the rare overseas players in the squad.

How polished Argentina’s attacking game will be is uncertain, but there are guarantees in the pack. Imposing captain Pablo Matera leads a powerful backrow and the flanker has good hands as well as a great offload. Hooker Agustín Creevy brings a mixture of savvy and steel while lock Guido Petti is reassuring on lineouts.