It is no secret that Argentine Rugby has been through a rough patch as of late.
After a sublime performance in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, all eyes were on the Pumas and their new Super Rugby team, Los Jaguares. The country’s first professional franchise.
Expectations were high, and why wouldn’t they have been? The squad was riddled with players not only of international quality but who had guided Los Pumas to the World Cup semi-final. Any team with the likes of Matera, Creevy, Sanchez and Landajo would surely perform, right?
Unfortunately, that was not the case. Throughout the past two seasons, the Jaguares have been erratic. They’ve been unable to close out crucial games at home. Tell me a Jaguares fan who can forget falling agonisingly to the Chiefs in 2016. Not to mention the performances against sub-par teams like the Southern Kings and the Sunwolves.
Evidently, it was naïve to expect that the Argentine franchise could quickly adapt to the reality that is Super Rugby. Super Rugby is at a superior level to most competitions and when you consider the gruelling travel schedule it was always going to be tough.
However; the underlying issues were always the same: shockingly bad discipline leading to many yellow cards. And red cards for that matter. Mediocre defence (tackle success close to 80%) and a very weak scrum.
Change is needed, and it will come in the shape of Mario Ledesma.
This Tuesday, the former Puma hooker will be announced as the head coach of the Jaguares for the 2018 season.
As a player, he was part of the 2007 World Cup squad that shocked the world.
After retiring from rugby, Ledesma briefly joined Michael Cheika’s coaching team in Stade Francais during the 2010-11 season, albeit without much success. He also spent another three years under the wing of Fabien Galthie in Montpellier, acting as a scrum coach. Later on, Mario migrated to Australia, after an invitation by Cheika, to join the Waratahs staff. His most significant accomplishment, however, was his role as the scrum/forwards coach for the Wallabies squad that reached the 2015 RWC final.
Ledesma’s experience coaching Northern and Southern hemisphere teams will prove to be invaluable. He will be able to balance the importance of a solid set-piece and defensive structure as well as having players with fine-tuned skill sets that understand how to execute offensive systems.
He is going to be assisted by two former Pumas, which is important to consider.
The first one is Martin Gaitan who shall continue in his role as assistant coach and will be of great use for Mario to catch up with the current Offensive/Defensive systems.
The second one being Nicolas Fernandez Miranda, an outlier who has coached Argentina’s most successful club of the past decade, Hindu, into winning countless tournaments. He will, in my opinion, be instrumental in transforming the squad’s culture. Perhaps, by mimicking that of the amateur clubs, Fernandez Miranda may be able to establish a meaningful sense of identity between the players and the franchise, as well as instilling resilience, patience and a thirst for success.
Characterising Ledesma is best done with the words; passionate and meticulous. And it is these traits he will need to lean on.
Although he has no prior experience as a head coach, he is the best option available.
His most significant challenge will be to steer a talented, yet hurting, team into winning ways.
Author: Tomas R
I’m an Engineering Student currently based in Buenos Aires after having spent most of my early life abroad.
Currently in a (very long) rugby hiatus, though I used to spend most of my time at the front of the scrum or at the edge of the pitch trying to be Dane Coles.
I’m also told that I make very good Asados.