"Morale is high with a well-balanced team of youngsters and veterans," says Agustín Pichot, 49, as he assesses this year’s edition of the Pumas.
Pichot, Argentina's legendary scrum-half capped 71 times, World Rugby board member and a seasoned observer of international rugby, sat down for an interview ahead of France 2023.
What is your prediction for the World Cup?
"As a fan, clearly Argentina have a good team. Then France and New Zealand have high-level teams, and I also see South Africa doing well. There are many contenders.
Since the last World Cup, Argentina has gone through a turbulent period, correct?
In the last four years, international rugby has undergone many changes, not all of them positive: there have been many problems with the rules, with governance and with the play-offs for the smaller teams.
Argentina has not escaped all these changes either. In 2019, we reached the Super Rugby final [with Los Jaguares] and then players had to leave.... Clubs in Europe, where Argentine players played, have been put into liquidation in the last two years.
Rugby has gone through many crises and Argentina has tried to adapt. The Pumas have had very good results, beating New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Morale is high with a well-balanced team of youngsters and veterans. [Former coach] Mario Ledesma has done a good job and Michael Cheika continues in the same vein with his extensive World Cup experience.
Many observers consider Argentina to have a favourable draw?
The group is very difficult because it's a World Cup and there are always surprises. Argentina should get out of the group, but it won't be easy.
Some are surprised to see that the top five teams in the World Rugby rankings are in the same half of the draw?
For me the world rankings don't work, as I have said time and time again, they are badly designed and unfair. Italy play against teams that are well ranked, while others are not [Italy are ranked 13 and play in the Six Nations, while Georgia are ranked 11]. It is also unfair because of the international calendar, where the best teams play against each other.
Rugby seems to be developing in new countries, wouldn’t you say?
I don't see any change, it's similar to 2007, which was the last significant one and that was already in France. The more interesting question is: what is going to be done for Chile and Uruguay in the next few years to bring them up to Australia's level?
What would be your ideal World Cup?
Twenty-four teams ranked by region, like in football. Then, rugby would be truly global. How do you explain that Brazil, where huge investments were made between 2016 and 2022, has not been able to qualify for the World Cup? All the resources go to 10 countries.
Is there a lot of expectation in Argentina for the Pumas' campaign?
Rugby is not like football, that's for sure, but there is a real passion here and there will be a lot of Argentinian fans at the World Cup.
Finally, which players will you follow the most?
I'm attracted to little guys like me [laughs]! Mateo Carreras, [Antoine] Dupont and [Cheslin] Kolbe.