5 Biggest Concerns for Argentina Coach Daniel Hourcade in Rugby Championship
Argentina find themselves in familiar territory after two games of the Rugby Championship: bottom of the table, played two, lost two.
But that doesn't tell half the story.
The Pumas came agonisingly close in both Tests against South Africa to securing their first tournament victory. In particular, their performance in Salta last weekend deserved more than to have the win snatched away at the death.
Now they have to go to New Zealand and Australia in the second stanza of the competition. Their quest for that elusive first win won't get any easier.
Here are the biggest hurdles for coach Daniel Hourcade to overcome.
1. Finding Their Killer Instinct
Argentina looked set for the greatest day in its rugby history last Saturday. The Pumas led the Springboks by 12 points with 29 minutes left, but they came away with a 33-31 defeat.
They simply couldn’t close the deal against a top side who they should have known would not give up the chase.
Hourcade admitted, per Reuters, that his side lacked the street smarts to kill off the South Africans, and he knows they must learn to keep their foot on the jugular should they find themselves in this position again.
2. The Loss of Pablo Matera
Argentina’s brilliant young flanker was removed from the fray against South Africa through injury, and he will now miss the next two games of the tournament, per Skysports.com.
Matera is one third of a talented back row alongside Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, and his loss will be keenly felt by the Pumas as they take on two sides with all-action back rows of their own.
3. The Fixture List
It hardly seems fair that New Zealand get three home games in a row while the Pumas have to hit the road to Australia and New Zealand having already made the trip to South Africa and back.
The schedule has been somewhat unkind to Hourcade’s men.
But if they can hold bodies and minds together, there is the carrot of the Wallabies at home to round off the competition. Australia are reeling after that shellacking at Eden Park and may well be ripe for the plucking on October 4.
4. Who to Play at Scrum-Half
The Pumas lost Martin Landajo in the first half of their last game, but they seemed to gain something when Tomas Cubelli replaced him.
Hourcade must now decide if the time is right for Cubelli to go to the front of the line.
Both are around the 30-cap mark so there is little to choose between them in terms of experience, but Cubelli’s passing and defence were sound against South Africa, and he may well deserve another shot.
5. The Expectation
Having run the Springboks so close twice in a week, Argentina’s fans will believe at last that this is the dawn of a new era.
They have been deprived of heroes since the class of 2007 that reached the World Cup semi-finals, and this crop is promising to get close to those heady heights.
A smattering of that team is still here in the shape of Juan Martin Hernandez, Lobbe and Leguizamon, and there are bright new stars in Joaquin Tuculet and the massive Manuel Montero.
But keeping a lid on that growing expectation is a tough task for Hourcade.
This campaign looks like the Pumas' best chance yet to notch their first Rugby Championship win, and that is a lot of pressure on a relatively new coach’s shoulders.