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SPORTS | 09-09-2019 13:46

'You have to dream big' – Pumas fly out to Japan ahead of Rugby World Cup

Argentina head to the Rugby World Cup relying heavily on the tried and tested, with their squad made up almost entirely of the Jaguares side that reached the final of the southern hemisphere's Super Rugby tournament.

Argentina head to the Rugby World Cup relying heavily on the tried and tested, with their squad made up almost entirely of the Jaguares side that reached the final of the southern hemisphere's Super Rugby tournament.

Coach Mario Ledesma has picked 26 Jaguares for Japan, with France-based loose forward Facundo Isa the most notable omission when he named his 31-man squad last month.

The Pumas will arrive in Japan on Monday, landing in Tokyo before taking a three-and-a-half hour bus ride to city of Fukushima, where they will settle for their final leg of preparations. The Albiceleste will remain there until Wednesday, September 18, before returning to Tokyo ahead of their first match against France.

The tournament kicks off in less than two weeks. The side flew out Sunday from Australia, where they had thumped Sydney club side Randwick 74-0 in their final World Cup warm-up game on Saturday. 

They will face a much tougher task at the World Cup in Japan after being drawn in a tough Pool C against France, Tonga, England and USA.

The Pumas take on France in their September 21 Pool C opener, with Ledesma hoping they can repeat their shock 17-12 win against the World Cup hosts in 2007, which propelled Argentina to a third-placed finish in the tournament.

"There are obvious similarities," said Ledesma.

"We see similar things now as to how the players feel, how they love each other, how they want the shirt, how they defend. Hopefully we will have the same result."

French full-back Maxime Medard has targeted the game as "an all or nothing match" if either side hopes to reach the quarter-finals. 

Lose to France in Tokyo and Argentina will have to beat pool-favourites England to reach the quarter-finals, a tall order for a nation that has slipped to 11th in the world rankings.

A problem for Argentina's opponents will be keeping centre Matías Moroni quiet. The 28-year-old can open up the tightest defence with his darting runs from deep, which were a key feature of Jaguares' march to the Super Rugby final.

The club's flanker Pablo Matera will captain a national team that has won just eight of 41 internationals since finishing fourth at the last World Cup, in England and Wales four years ago.

Argentina went down 24-18 to an experimental South Africa side in Pretoria last month – their ninth straight defeat since beating Australia away last September.

But playing in the Rugby Championship against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa has given the Pumas valuable experience heading to Japan. 

And the year of defeats don't tell the full story – a second-half onslaught against the All Blacks in July saw the Pumas narrowly beaten 20-16 in Buenos Aires. 

And Ledesma is hoping the success of the Jaguares will be transferred to the World Cup.

"The boys have prepared all year to be world champions. You have to dream big," he said.

Former Pumas hooker Ledesma was chosen for four consecutive World Cup tournaments between 1999 and 2011 and loose forward Juan Manuel Leguizamon, now 36, equals that record after making the squad for Japan. 

Only two Argentina-based non-Jaguares made the squad, plus France-based fly-halves Nicolás Sánchez and Benjamin Urdapilleta and prop Juan Figallo from English club Saracens.

The Albiceleste have played 37 World Cup matches, winning 19 and losing 18, with the best showing a third-place finish at the 2007 tournament hosted by France.

Factfile

Rugby World Cup

Pool C: ARGENTINA

  • Population: 44.7 million
  • Coach: Mario Ledesma (Argentine, since August 2018)
  • Number of registered players: 105,151 
  • World Rugby ranking: 11 (as of September 2, 2019)
  • Pool rivals: France, Tonga, England, USA.

World Cup past record

  • 1987 - Pool
  • 1991 - Pool
  • 1995 - Pool
  • 1999 - Quarter-final
  • 2003 - Pool
  • 2007 - Third
  • 2011 - Quarter-final 
  • 2015 - Fourth

Pool-phase matches (Argentine time)

  • Argentina v France, September 21 (04.15 hrs), Tokyo.
  • Argentina v Tonga, September 28 (01.45 hrs), Higashiosaka City.
  • Argentina v England, October 5 (05.00 hrs), Tokyo.
  • Argentina v USA, October 9 (01.45 hrs), Kumagaya.

Squad

  • Backs: Emiliano Boffelli (Jaguares), Joaquín Tuculet (Jaguares), Santiago Carreras (Jaguares), Bautista Delguy (Jaguares), Ramiro Moyano (Jaguares), Jerónimo de la Fuente (Jaguares), Juan Cruz Mallía (Jaguares), Lucas Mensa (Pucara), Matías Moroni (Jaguares), Matías Orlando (Jaguares), Nicolás Sánchez (Stade Francais), Benjamín Urdapilleta (Castres), Tomás Cubelli (Jaguares), Felipe Ezcurra (Hindu)
  • Forwards: Rodrigo Bruni (Jaguares), Javier Ortega Desio (Jaguares), Marcos Kremer (Jaguares), Juan Manuel Leguizamón (Jaguares), Tomás Lezana (Jaguares), Pablo Matera (Jaguares, capt), Matías Alemanno (Jaguares), Tomás Lavanini (Jaguares/Leicester), Guido Petti (Jaguares), Agustín Creevy (Jaguares), Julián Montoya (Jaguares), Santiago Socino (Jaguares), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Jaguares), Juan Figallo (Saracens), Santiago Medrano (Jaguares), Enrique Pieretto (Jaguares), Mayco Vivas (Jaguares)

Keep an eye out for...

  • Player to watch: Tomás Lavanini. A tailor-made replacement for Patricio Albacete in the Pumas second row and a key member of the Jaguares side that reached the Super Rugby final. 
  • Aim for the tournament: "The first objective is the quarter-finals. After that anything can happen. Always dream big. The boys have prepared all year to be world champions" – coach Mario Ledesma

– TIMES/NA/AFP

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