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SPORTS | 24-08-2018 12:10

Pumas coach Ledesma sees lighter side ahead of Springboks clash

Argentina face South Africa in Mendoza on Saturday, with new coach hoping to turn around poor run of form that has seen Pumas lose 23 out of last 29 Tests.

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma may have one of the toughest jobs in international rugby – but he has not lost his sense of humour.

Ahead of the Rugby Championship return match against South Africa in Mendoza this Saturday, he was asked if it was possible to stop the Springboks.

"Maybe if they get sick or something," joked the 45-year-old who this month succeeded Daniel Hourcade as coach of a team that has lost 23 of 29 Tests since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Argentina had exceeded expectations at the global showpiece in England, finishing fourth behind champions New Zealand, runners-up Australia and South Africa.  

Hourcade resigned two months ago after a disastrous run of mid-year results at home, losing twice to Wales and once to Scotland, both of whom travelled without many stars. 

Ledesma was a natural replacement having guided the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time this year in his maiden season as coach.

But hopes that he could instantly transform the Pumas into a winning team again were dashed by a 34-21 loss to South Africa in Durban last Saturday.

Argentina were clinical in the first half, building a 14-10 half-time lead, but the power of the Springboks told as the second half progressed.

"They are by far the most physical side in world rugby," said former Pumas hooker Ledesma, who played and coached in France and coached in Australia before returning home.

"We must defend better in Mendoza," he stressed, referring to some soft tries among the six  conceded against South Africa in Durban.

Ledesma has not panicked despite a flattering scoreline last weekend with Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard missing five of seven kicks at goal.

Only change

In the only change to the starting line-up, Tomás Lavanini replaces Matías Alemanno at lock with the former dropping to a bench that includes three other alterations from Durban.

In come centre Jeronimo de la Fuente, scrum-half Tomás Cubelli and hooker Facundo Bosch to replace Santiago González Iglesias, Martín Landajo and Diego Fortuny.

Winning with a bonus point enabled South Africa to share first place with title-holders New Zealand, who ran in six tries to overcome Australia 38-13 in Sydney.

Like Argentina, they have made one change, also at lock, with Franco Mostert taking the place of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is among the replacements. 

South Africa has also reshuffled the bench, bringing in prop Wilco Louw and lock RG Snyman for Thomas du Toit and Marco van Staden.

Coach Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus, hired this year after two disastrous seasons under Allister Coetzee, expects the Pumas to target the scrums, mauls and breakdowns.

"They are going to raise the bar from last weekend and the Springboks have battled on two previous visits to Mendoza."

South Africa were lucky to escape with a 16-16 draw in 2012 and equally fortunate to win 22-17 one year later at the 40,000-seat Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.

Also, while the Pumas have won only three of 34 Rugby Championship matches since debuting six years ago, two of those triumphs were against South Africa. 

"The match in Durban was not the most beautiful to watch nor was our performance perfect," admitted Erasmus. 

"Winning is our primary goal, however, as we build toward the 2019 World Cup in Japan and I will settle for five more points from our match in Mendoza."

Line-ups

Argentina and South Africa teams for a Rugby Championship second round match at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza Saturday (kick-off 4.10pm clocal time):

Teams (15-1)

Argentina

Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Matías Moroni, Bautista Ezcurra y Ramiro Moyano; Nicolás Sánchez y Gonzalo Bertranou; Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer y Pablo Matera; Tomás Lavanini y Guido Petti; Juan Figallo, Agustín Creevy (captain) y Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

Replacements: Facundo Bosch, Santiago García Botta, Santiago Medrano, Matías Alemanno, Tomás Lezana, Tomás Cubelli, Jerónimo de la Fuente y Juan Cruz Mallía.

Coach: Mario Ledesma (ARG)

South Africa

Willie le Roux; Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphiwe Dyantyi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi (capt), Francois Louw; Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira 

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Embrose Papier, Lionel Mapoe, Damian Willemse

Coach: Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus (RSA)

Referee: Angus Gardner (AUS)

Argentina's 29-match horror run

Argentina, who host South Africa Saturday in the second round of the Rugby Championship, have lost 23 of 29 Tests since finishing fourth at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England:

(Format: Date, Opponent, Score, Location)

2016

11/6   Italy          30-24   Santa Fe

19/6   France         30-19   Tucumán 

25/6   France          0-27   Tucumán  

20/8   South Africa   23-30   Nelspruit

27/8   South Africa   26-24   Salta

10/9   New Zealand    22-57   Hamilton

17/9   Australia      20-36   Perth

1/10   New Zealand    17-36   Buenos Aires

8/10   Australia      21-33   London 

5/11   Japan          54-20   Tokyo 

12/11  Wales          20-24   Cardiff

19/11  Scotland       16-19   Edinburgh

26/11  England        14-27   London 

2017

10/6   England        34-38   San Juan

17/6   England        25-35   Santa Fe

24/6   Georgia        45-29   San Salvador de Jujuy

19/8   South Africa   15-37   Port Elizabeth

26/8   South Africa   23-41   Salta

9/9    New Zealand    22-39   New Plymouth

16/9   Australia      20-45   Canberra

30/9   New Zealand    10-36   Buenos Aires

7/10   Australia      20-37   Mendoza

11/11  England         8-21   London

18/11  Italy          31-15   Firenze

25/11  Ireland        19-28   Dublin

2018

9/6    Wales          10-23   San Juan

16/6   Wales          12-30   Santa Fe

23/6   Scotland       15-44   Resistencia

18/8   South Africa   21-34   Durban

- AFP

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