December 12, 2013
For the time being at least
By Frankie Deges
The problem looking into the future after such a huge loss is what will we accept as a positive Puma recovery. The 73-13 loss against South Africa on Saturday was tragic on many fronts, the worst being the perceived general lack of attitude overpowering any other technical or tactical consideration.
Criticism could be pointed towards the selection process for Saturday’s starting fifteen, even towards the way the squad was chosen, but if everybody had been on the same page on the day, the final outcome would have been different; definitely not the win but not a sixty-point loss. It must be said: this South African team is on an excellence curve and has been playing better and better for the last few months.
What about Los Pumas? Everybody had acknowledged this second Rugby Championship season would not be easier, but never, ever, did anyone imagine such a tough start. To go with Soweto, the way the All Blacks kick-started their title defence with a 47-29 win against Australia in this opening round, confirmed how tough, hard, this year’s tournament will be for Santiago Phelan’s team.
Attempted excuses for Saturday could be found around injuries to key players We can’t underestimate the absence of captain Juan Fernández Lobbe or prop Marcos Ayerza (both unfit) or that both Patricio Albacete and Juan Martín Hernández did not even complete the first half. At this level, if the absence of players of such a high standard is the difference between losing by such a huge margin, then the problem is deeper. Players of this calibre take time to produce, but some of the experienced players seemed to fail to take responsibility during the game.
There were two debuts at this level and it was far from the ideal start to what we hope are long and fruitful careers. Prop Matías Díaz was clearly beaten in the scrum and at 20 it is clear that he should have been eased into test rugby. Coming from the bench would have been sensible, more so against such a powerful Springbok pack. Yet, also 20, Pablo Matera had, given the circumstances, a good debut. He will get better with time and if he learns how to control his hot blood, we’ve found the new Puma flanker.
Both have come, successfully, through the UAR system. Senior rugby is another ball game and they will need to bounce back mentally. If, as they say, this is a squad with internal issues, then it will be harder for them without the positive leadership of the older players.
There are five rounds still to play in the Rugby Championship. What will be considered a better Puma performance? Will only a win be acceptable? (even if it seems impossible today). What will fans be happy with? What will be acceptable?
Today, knowing that the team understood the importance of what happened on Saturday and put aside petty differences, that they rally to play in a way that makes us all proud would suffice. For the time being at least.