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Rugby - Underdogs Argentina hope new boys bring change of fortunes

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BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – A decision to ease restrictions on European-based players could be the impetus that Argentina need to reverse a long slump and finally begin to compete with the traditional powers of the southern hemisphere.

Argentina have used only home-based players in the Rugby Championship since 2015 when they reached the World Cup semi-finals and every year since they have finished last, winning one of their 12 matches.

However, new coach Mario Ledesma asked the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) for permission to call up Saracens tight head prop Juan Figallo, who last played in the 2015 World Cup, and Ramiro Herrera, the Stade Francais prop forward, is expected to join him.

UAR officials said they are willing to relax the restriction in future and Ledesma’s request is proof he wants new blood and a deeper squad to rejuvenate a side who have struggled to repeat the kind of form that took them to the semis three years ago.

Ledesma, who will be in charge for the first time in Argentina’s opening match against South Africa on Saturday, named six uncapped players in his squad and said his immediate goal is to improve their scrummaging and defence, two areas of traditional Argentine strength.

“We need to get back to the fundamentals of our game,” the former hooker said. “Good defending wins games.

“The top teams have a very effective bench,” he added. “That, for example, is the difference between the three great sides in the southern hemisphere and teams like France, Wales and England.”

Since joining the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of the Six Nations in 2012 Argentina have finished last every year bar 2015, when a win over South Africa lifted them to third.

And while they have won just two of their last 17 tests, Ledesma is taking confidence from the performance of Argentina club side the Jaguares.

They reached the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time this season and the majority of this national squad were in their side.

Ledesma coached them to that milestone before replacing Daniel Hourcade, who announced he was standing down after consecutive losses to Wales in June.

Argentina kick off their campaign in Durban against South Africa before hosting the Springboks a week later in Mendoza.

(Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo, Writing by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)

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