ARGENTINA ON THE RWC STAGE
When Argentina defeated France in the opening match of Rugby World Cup 2007, not only did it rock the proud home nation to its core, the ripple effect made the rest of the rugby world sit up and take note that Los Pumas were truly a team to be reckoned with.
Back home in Argentina, football was instantly wiped off the back pages as Marcelo Loffreda’s outstanding side swept all before them, going on to defeat Georgia, Namibia and Ireland in some style to top Pool D and storm their way into the quarter-finals.
With their inspirational captain Agustín Pichot leading a backline that contained Felipe Contepomi and the multi-talented ‘Maradona of rugby,’ Juan Martín Hernández, supported by a hard-bitten, experienced pack of forwards that contained such stalwarts as Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma and the legendary Fernandez Lobbe brothers, Ignacio and Juan Martín, Argentina captured the hearts and minds of their countrymen and women to an extent that El Superclassico, the Buenos Aires football derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate, was rescheduled so as not to clash with their last-eight showdown with Scotland.
Los Pumas duly defeated the Scots before succumbing 37-13 to eventual champions South Africa in Paris. But after defeating France for a second time to claim the bronze medal, Pichot and co returned home as heroes after making an irrefutable case for Argentina’s eventual admission into a regular international tournament. Having competed creditably in this year’s inaugural Rugby Championship, Argentina’s World Cup success in 2007 can now be viewed as the catalyst for that welcome development.
The breakthrough was a long time in coming, though, and Argentina’s early Rugby World Cup performances were less than breathtaking.
The inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 saw Los Pumas pitted against Fiji, Italy and host nation New Zealand, but they lost their opening match 28-9 to Fiji and went out of the tournament after losing heavily to the All Blacks. They did have the consolation of beating Italy 25-16 – a game in which their legendary fly half and captain Hugo Porta notched five penalties – but that would prove to be Argentina’s lone success in the first three World Cups.
In Rugby World Cup 1991, Argentina proved no match for eventual winners Australia, losing 32-19 at Stradey Park in Llanelli, before crashing out of the tournament following further disappointing defeats to Wales and the mercurial men of Western Samoa.
They were beaten again by Western Samoa at RWC 1995, but the margin was small and further narrow defeats at the hands of England and Italy pointed to better times ahead as forwards like prop Patricio Noriega and Federico Méndez came to the fore.
Los Pumas were far better organised by the time RWC 1999 came around and, despite losing the opening match to host nation Wales (23-18) at the newly refurbished Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, they defeated Samoa and Japan to earn a play-off against Ireland, whom they defeated 28-24 to set-up a quarter-final clash with France.
They lost to the eventual runners-up 47-26, but fly half Gonzalo Quesada finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 102 points and the core of the 2007 side – Pichot, Contepomi, Ledesma and Fernandez Lobbe – had begun to make their mark.
Rugby World Cup 2003 proved to be a step backwards for Argentina, who were handed an arduous schedule which saw them having to fulfill four pool matches in a fortnight. After losing their opening match to hosts Australia in Sydney, Los Pumas easily saw off Namibia and Romania. But there was insufficient fuel in the tank by the time they came to meet Ireland in Adelaide and they were ousted from the tournament after losing 16-15.
The line on the graph has been an upward one since then, however, and after their stunning success in 2007, Argentina continued their progress last year in New Zealand, winning three of their four Pool B matches against Romania, Scotland and Georgia before bowing out against the hosts, and eventual winners, 33-10 in the quarter-finals.
Argentina, it seems, have arrived!
Fly half Gonzalo Quesada finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 102 points 1999, a tally that included a record 31 penalties.
Juan’s the man - Inspired by the brilliant play of Juan Martín Hernández, Argentina achieved their best-ever result in Rugby World Cup history in 2007. Los Pumas' third-place finish ultimately won them an invitation to join the SANZAR nations and compete in the newly-formed Rugby Championship in 2012.
Behind the 8-ball - Argentina suffered an eight-game losing streak in the Rugby World Cup, stretching from 1 June 1987 to 10 October 1999. Samoa had beaten them twice during that period but the Pumas got the upper hand at the third time of asking to win 32-16 and break the losing cycle.
"If we have to play against New Zealand, I'll explain it like this. To win, their 15 players have to have a Diarrhea and we will have to put snipers around the field shooting at them and then we have to play the best match of our lives." - Argentina second row Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe on a potential match-up against the All Blacks.
Argentina had the honour of playing the host nation in the opening match of a Rugby World Cup for three tournaments in a row (1999, 2003 and 2007). It was a case of third time lucky in terms of the result for Los Pumas who spoiled France’s party with a 17-12 victory in Paris in 2007.