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Improving Pumas show World Cup credentials in Nelson defeat

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Argentina’s impressive performance against the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship highlighted how much of a threat they are likely to pose at next year’s Rugby World Cup, especially if they can iron out problems with their scrum.

The Pumas pushed the All Blacks for much of the game in Nelson on Saturday, before late Shannon Frizell and Jack Goodhue tries ballooned the score to a 46-24 advantage for the world champions.

It was their attacking prowess, however, that was most evident at Trafalgar Park, with outside backs Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano carving out a combined 236 metres and beating 17 defenders.

The trio popped up all over the field, able to exploit gaps prised open by their forwards and flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez’s deft distribution.

Such was their performance, New Zealand Herald rugby writer Gregor Paul said they were a far different side than the one that entered the championship in 2012.

“They have been willing but not so able,” Paul wrote. “They have been physical without the finesse to manipulate the last vestiges of the defence.

“They have been a 65-minute team, tough, frustrating and rugged; hard to break down until the last quarter when they make a few mistakes and are punished.

“But the old Argentina may be just that. In Nelson, the new Pumas were unveiled.”

The major concern for their World Cup Pool C opponents in Japan, a group which includes England and France, is that the Pumas have made massive strides under Mario Ledesma, who replaced Daniel Hourcade after he resigned in June.

It would not have hurt that Ledesma spent the previous eight months in charge of Super Rugby’s Jaguares, who are ostensibly the national side, as he guided them to the playoffs of the southern hemisphere tournament for the first time.

While they lost his first test in charge against the Springboks in Durban, they bounced back to beat Rassie Erasmus’s side in Mendoza two weeks ago — a defeat the South African coach said had thrown his own World Cup planning into disarray.

Despite their obvious improvements, Ledesma acknowledged they were still struggling in the set piece, particularly in the scrum with their pack shunted back several times on Saturday and heavily penalised.

“We really need to improve there. We got torn apart,” said Ledesma, who is widely acknowledged as having turned around the Wallabies scrum when he worked with Australia coach Michael Cheika from 2015-17.

“That has been going on for the last couple of years.

“Unfortunately the other teams really go hard at us there and it does not make it easy for us.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)

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