With the Rugby World Cup just a couple of months, it seems like a good time to take a look at all of the main contenders involved in the competition.
Let’s have a look at how Argentina are going to fair heading into this tournament. Los Pumas have a brilliant record at the Rugby World Cup, but will that record continue this year.
Argentina heading into the tournament
Four years on from one of their worst performance in a Rugby World Cup, there is no doubt that this is a much better Argentina side than four years ago. For one thing, this team comes into the tournament with a new head coach in Michael Cheika.
The former Leinster, Stade Francais and Australia boss took over in 2022 with Mario Ledesma let go after a winless 2021 Rugby Championship. Since taking over in early 2022, Cheika has improved this side massively and Argentina have some big wins in the last 18 months. Cheika’s reign began by beating Scotland when they toured Argentina.
Despite losing his first game in the Rugby Championship, Cheika’s side put up their biggest ever victory over Australia in San Juan in front of their home fans. It was a statement victory for Argentina. That was not even the most impressive win of their 2022 Rugby Championship. Argentina won their very first game over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Going from zero wins to two impressive victories in the Rugby Championship showed this team was moving in the right direction. In the teams tour of Europe at the end of 2022, they once again made history by beating England for the first time in 14 years. While they followed that up with disappointing losses to Scotland and Wales, it was still a great tour for Argentina.
In 2023, Argentina have once again beaten the Wallabies, with the win coming in Australia this time. It was the first time ever that Argentina have won back to back matches against Australia. Despite there now being no Argentinian teams playing high level domestic rugby, Argentinian players have been excelling in domestic rugby.
So this Argentinian team heads into the tournament with a lot of momentum. They have shown that on their day, they can beat any team in the world. Michael Cheika has turned this team into a brilliant attacking machine.
Argentina’s XV for the tournament
One of the things which is really going in Michael Cheika’s favour is that there is a huge amount of depth in this Argentinian squad. However that does make it difficult to pick who is going to start for Argentina at this tournament.
The front row features Argentina’s captain Julian Montoya. Outside of him is a huge amount of competition, particularly for the tighthead position, with Eduardo Bello and Joel Sclavi also in the mix.
Their second row partnership has previously been one of the strongest parts of this team. But Matias Alemanno is currently facing a race against time to be healthy. While the injury he picked up in the Rugby Championship isn’t serious, you could see Marcos Kremer or Guido Petti starting alongside Lavanini against England.
Pablo Matera and Juan Martin Gonzalez are two of the best players in this team and there is no doubt about them starting. Facundo Isa is the most experienced option alongside those two, but Cheika could opt for Santiago Grondona instead.
Santiago Carreras’ partner is a difficult one to pick, but Cheika will likely look for experience at nine. Argentina have a huge amount of options in their backline which makes it difficult to pick. Cheika could go with an all Newcastle centre partnership, but I think Lucio Cinti is the preferred option over Matias Orlando.
This depth continues into their back three. Emiliano Boffelli is a crucial part of this team and has started all but one of the games that Cheika has been in charge. Mateo Carreras has been a similar mainstay and is the sort of player who could light up the entire tournament with his incredibly fast feet.
Considering the youth in this team, I think Cheika will look for experience on the other wing. Juan Imhoff certainly has that experience and is still playing at an incredibly high level at age 35.
2.Julian Montoya-Leicester Tigers
3.Francisco Gomez Kodela-Bordeaux Begles
6.Pablo Matera-Mie Honda Heat
8.Juan Martin Gonzalez
11.Mateo Carreras-Newcastle Falcons
13.Matias Moroni-Newcastle Falcons
14.Juan Imhoff-Racing 92
Players to watch out for in this Argentina team
Starting up front, Argentina have arguably the most exciting two hookers in the world, starting with captain Julian Montoya. He has been playing at a world class level for Leicester and is a menace at the breakdown. You are going to see a lot of Montoya all over the pitch and Argentina can bring on Augustin Creevy.
Juan Martin Gonzalez was the man who scored the winner against Australia in the Rugby Championship and he is going to be crucial to this Argentinian team. The new Saracen’s signing is a destructive ball carrier, having scored four tries in the Rugby Championship last year.
Pablo Matera is a similarly exciting attacking option. Matera was phenomenal for the Crusaders in 2022, showing that he could beat the very best players from Australia and New Zealand. Matera will need to show some of the form he showed with the Crusaders for this Argentinian team.
Argentina’s lock partnership has always been very good. But the thing that has often defined them is poor discipline. Argentina need their locks to be on their best behaviour throughout the tournament, as any type of card becomes incredibly costly in the Rugby World Cup.
A similarly exciting attacking option are the two Carreras’s in this team. Both players can open up any defence with their fast feet and need to be at their best to help Argentina advance in this tournament.
Argentina’s path to winning the tournament
While Michael Cheika has certainly improved this Argentinian squad, it would still be the biggest upset in rugby history if Argentina were able to win the tournament. But, this Argentinian team should certainly have high expectations for the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
For one thing, Argentina will be licking their lips looking at the group they are in. England might be the most difficult opposition for Argentina, but they did beat England at the end of 2022. Japan and Samoa will not be easy games, but both of those are very winnable for this Argentinian side.
The thing that will be difficult for Argentina is that they have three tough games in the group stage, with Samoa a much improved side now with the changes to World Rugby’s eligibility regulations.
Even if they do lose to Steve Borthwick’s England, Argentina can still get to the quarter-finals and they will have a favourable matchup. Australia are the most likely team to finish top of Pool C and considering Argentina have beaten the Wallabies a lot recently, we could quite easily see Los Pumas in the World Cup semi-final.
Things will of course get a huge amount more difficult at the semi-final stage. With either South Africa or Ireland waiting for them, Argentina would need a historic and unlikely result to get to their first ever Rugby World Cup final.
If Argentina are to surprise, it would likely be because they relied on the exciting attacking intent of their backs. Argentina do have the backs to cut through any defence and they need to give those players the opportunity to create something special.
Argentina are not going to beat any of the world’s top teams purely on physicality. They need to give guys like Mateo Carreras, Santiago Carreras, Lucio Cinti and Emiliano Boffelli the chance to get at opposing defences. If they do, then Argentina could possibly cause an upset in this tournament.
Argentina’s chances of winning the tournament
Overall, it looks like it is going to be a good Rugby World Cup for Argentina. They have an excellent squad and depth is not going to be much of an issue for Michael Cheika’s side. The usual injuries in this sort of tournament can be dealt with.
The chance of Argentina getting back to the World Cup semi-final for the first time in 16 years looks pretty high. They are on the more favourable side of the draw and can certainly beat all of the teams in their group. It would be a huge disappointment if Argentina did not make it out of the group stage.
But it seems unlikely that they have enough to get past any of the top four teams in the world. Los Pumas are just not quite on the same level as those top four and so getting to their first final seems a bit too far. But considering some of the performances Argentina have put in recently, maybe they could shock the rugby world.
Prediction of Argentina’s tournament: Quarter-final exit