Ex-Boks boss doubts Argentina will ever catch up to ‘Big Three’
FORMER South Africa coach Ian McIntosh has poured cold water on any ideas Argentina have of making a rapid rise as the Pumas prepare to make their bow in the Rugby Championship.
Despite consistently punching above their weight at World Cups - including a third-place finish in 2007 - Argentina have been left to feed off scraps in the intervening years, starved of regular top-level competition against the teams they so often show up at the showpiece.
All that changes on Saturday, however, when Santiago Phelan’s side travel to Cape Town for their opening clash of the revamped Tri Nations against the Springboks.
The thought of slugging it out with the three best teams in the game on an annual basis, on top of their already impressive World Cup record, has generated a buzz among International Rugby Board administrators who believe the side has the potential to break into the top echelon in years to come.
McIntosh, though, isn’t so sure.
“They made their point in the 2007 World Cup but a lot of those players are gone now and I think they’re in a rebuilding stage, like a lot of sides,” said McIntosh, who coached the Boks between 1993-94 and is now a Springboks selector.
“I don’t believe in my heart they’ll ever be a powerhouse but they’ll definitely be a side that threatens a power. They just don’t have the depth and history in the game that we and the All Blacks have.”
McIntosh’s reservations are reinforced by Argentina’s disastrous history against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Against the top trio the Pumas have a combined record 42 losses in 48 matches and have never beaten the Springboks.
Of course, Argentina’s biggest obstacle has been getting their best players on the field as they wrestle with the demands of the powerful European clubs, where the majority of their stars are based.
That won’t be a problem this time round with coach Phelan assembling his strongest squad possible, barring veteran playmaker Felipe Contepomi who made himself unavailable.
But while McIntosh concedes that will make the Pumas a strong proposition at home, he believes it’s the gruelling travel schedule and intensity of matches that will see their undoing.
“They’re going to be hard to beat on their home patch. I wouldn’t be a bit a surprised if they gave us all of us a scare,” he added. “But they’re a side that don’t travel too well. Even the Springboks go to Australia or New Zealand and don’t win on a consistent basis - that’s what makes it hard to win this tournament.”
On South Africa’s prospects, McIntosh is happy to concede favouritism to fierce rivals New Zealand as they continue to rebuild under new coach Heyneke Meyer.
The departure of John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, to name a few, after last year’s World Cup has forced McIntosh and his fellow selectors to usher in a new breed of Springboks.
They looked up to the task in the 2-0 series win over England in June, however, he knows that simply repeating that effort over the next seven weeks will hardly be enough against world champions the All Blacks and Robbie Deans’ Wallabies.
“Heyneke Meyer’s finding his feet, bringing new players in with some of the old blokes retiring,” McIntosh said. “I think he was very conservative in his approach [against England] which was wise and he was quite successful.
“But he has got to step forward now and be confident enough to expand the type of game they play.”
Forget about its lame name, with the plucky Pumas joining the three best teams on the planet the inaugural Rugby Championship (yuck...) will be anything but boring. So who will be kings of the south? Ever game for a challenge 7DAYS gives you the lowdown…
TO WIN this tournament you have to win abroad and the All Blacks are the only team to consistently do so. Will be desperate to add the southern hemisphere title they lost to Australia last year to the Webb Ellis Trophy.
KEY MAN: With Conrad Smith injured and Sonny Bill Williams off to Japan, Ma’a Nonu has to stand up in midfield.
7DAYS SAYS: What Cup hangover? First.
SHOWED great composure against Wales but face a major step up against the Kiwis in back-to-back Tests to start. Good chance at full-strength but already on the backfoot with James Horwill and James O’Connor in the stands.
KEY MAN: He may be small but everyone fears Will Genia - the heartbeat of the attack.
7DAYS SAYS: Injuries and horror draw will see the Aussies come up short. Second.
OPENING games against the Pumas will give new-look Springboks a chance to develop and they could be on a roll when they meet Australia. But Inexperience may hurt them in the crunch.
KEY MAN: Under-fire for a poor kicking display against England, Morne Steyn must get back to his best very quickly.
7DAYS SAYS: Need more time to rebuild under Heyneke Meyer. Third.
THE PUMAS may have held their own at World Cups but the intensity of meeting South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in consecutive weeks is sure to be a huge wake-up call. Always tough at home, though...
KEY MAN: After a three-year absence, can Juan Martin Hernandez recapture the form that saw him light up the 2007 World Cup?
7DAYS SAYS: Happy to be invited. Fourth