As always we start the New Year looking back over the past twelve months and handing out our verdict on the top ten teams and what they got out of the year on a score out of ten. We start off in the Americas looking at our own backyard, then move South of the Equator to the “Big Three”. We then journey back North in July to look at the Six Nations Competitors as the Northern Hemisphere season ends.
We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into 2018. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause in 2017 as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in 2018. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it.
Argentina – 5/10
We wish we could say it has been a good year for Argentina, but sadly we can’t. If anything the dip in fortunes for the Pumas since the last World Cup continued apace in 2017 leaving them with very little to cheer about. There is still no denying that they continue to produce some prodigious rugby talent, and are a side that it would be suicidal for any team to take lightly. However, in terms of results Argentina are increasingly becoming the paupers at Test Rugby’s top table.
Argentina’s first significant foray in 2017 was in the second installment of the Americas Rugby Championship. While this is not the full Test Pumas side that does the regular International Test circuit and is in many ways a developmental Argentinian A side, it still boasts talent that is usually very quickly seen in the full Pumas squad within a year. Consequently the ARC has been a good proving ground for up and coming Pumas hopefuls in the last two years and 2017’s edition was no exception. It is a tournament that Argentina does well in, winning the 2016 tournament and finishing a close second to the USA in this year’s.
Consequently Argentina impressed in 2017’s ARC, dispatching all their rivals including Canada with ease and only being denied the title after drawing with the USA in a hard-fought final match in Argentina. As a result Argentina had to finish in second place, 1 point behind the USA. Still there was plenty to be excited about for Argentinian supporters as a raft of promising young talent played some superb rugby at times.
Argentina’s next challenge was a 2 match series in June against a visiting English side also boasting some dangerous new talent, as many of England’s star players were serving on the Lions tour of New Zealand. Still in both matches a full strength Pumas side acquitted themselves well against an energetic and dangerous looking English side, despite ultimately losing the series 2-0. In the second Test in particular Argentina started to show the signs that would be their Achilles heel all year, as they seemed to run out of gas at the 65 minute mark, especially once talismanic Captain and Hooker Agustin Creevy left the field. Argentina managed to get themselves back on track with an ultimately comprehensive victory over Georgia to close out the month.
The Rugby Championship two months later however, can only be described as a crushing disappointment for the Pumas, despite them playing probably their best game of the year in the tournament in New Zealand and away from home. Their opening two matches against South Africa were disorganized and labored efforts that highlighted a lack of discipline and patience under pressure as well as a team relying on individual talents rather than any sort of cohesive structure. Their trip to New Zealand however saw them produce what we considered to be their best game of the year. Argentina started well and to everyone’s surprise, perhaps even their own, found themselves in the lead at half time. However, it wasn’t to last as they started to fade dramatically in the final quarter and the All Blacks were able to regroup as only they know how. In their remaining three games, despite the final two matches being at home, they appeared to have run out of steam and ideas, as Australia and New Zealand notched up some easy victories over the South Americans.
Consequently it was a weary Pumas side that headed to Europe in November to face the Northern Hemisphere’s two top sides England and Ireland. To give them credit they clearly unsettled England at Twickenham and despite the loss the scoreline meant that they left the field with their pride intact. This was clearly the confidence booster they needed to put Italy to the sword a week later, as well as put in a gritty and determined performance against Ireland in their final match of the year. Although they lost to both England and Ireland, they had certainly made their opponents work hard and once more demonstrated that, while it may be at sixes and sevens at the moment in terms of direction, Argentinian rugby is still a potent threat. If they can find the momentum that made them such a force to be reckoned with in the last World Cup, then they are blessed with enough talent to once more reestablish themselves at the top end of the Test table. Bring back some of their overseas based players and all of a sudden Argentina look a serious threat to their World Cup pool opponents in Japan in 2019.
However, for now Argentina are clearly stuck in third gear and while they may be awkward opponents for any of the world’s best teams, based on their present form, results are likely to still be depressingly few and far between. Down but not out, Argentina really need to make 2018 the year they find the spark to reignite a successful build up to the 2019 World Cup.
Match of the year – New Zealand vs Argentina – New Plymouth – September 9th – New Zealand 39/Argentina 22. This was the match where the Pumas pulled out all the stops and put in a powerful and thrilling display which saw them take a well deserved lead at half time. Sadly though they couldn’t keep it up for the full 80 minutes but definitely the best 60 minutes of Argentinian rugby we saw all year!
Player of the year – Agustin Creevy. He may be a sixty minute player but what a sixty minutes he consistently manages to produce every time he takes the field in a Pumas jersey. The Captain and Hooker is up there with the likes of Italy’s Sergio Parisse in terms of ability and the inspiration he provides to his team. An exceptional player who always leaves his mark.
Player to watch in 2018 – Emiliano Boffelli. The lanky winger made a real name for himself in 2017, as well as being a prodigious try scorer. Fast, powerful and with the added bonus of a boot that seems able to find its target from even the most remote and distant corners of the pitch, Boffelli is likely to get a lot of overseas clubs scrambling for their checkbooks in 2018.
We’ll end this report card with some highlights of their last Test of the year against Ireland, in which they acquitted themselves well and hopefully gave us a glimpse of the Pumas side of old that we hope to see more of in 2018!
To be continued – up next Canada!