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June 22, 2017
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Argentina’s rugby teams must sharpen the mind

By Frankie Deges / Rugby column

It hasn’t been a good week for Argentine rugby. It might be said, in fact, that so far it hasn’t been a good season. Of course, the feeling escalated after Los Pumitas’ third consecutive loss at the U20 World Rugby Championship against a Georgia team they had never lost against, leaving them 80 minutes away from dropping out next season.

They will have to beat Samoa to survive the top echelon which on paper they should, but given their recent inability to recover from a very late loss to France in the second round that could have even catapulted them into the semi-finals, anything is possible.

Argentina XV lost against the Russian Bears in Montevideo last Saturday and were playing Spain last Wednesday with their backs against the wall. Earlier this year, needing to beat the USA Eagles or prevent them from getting a fourth try and a championship-winning bonus point, they folded in the last move and the Americas Rugby Championship went to the North Americans.

Los Pumas were, with the same players much, much better than what the Jaguares had been in previous weekends and their narrow loss against England could well have been a win.

That it wasn’t somehow is a lesson in itself: somehow they must learn to close out games. Yes, when a team gives away that many points, defence is an issue but closing games out is about something else. It’s about denying the opposition even a sniff of possession to ensure they are not in a position to launch the smallest of attacks.

A week is a long time and as Daniel Hourcade and his team are already in Santa Fe ahead of the second test, England will have taken a lot of spirit out of a win that saw them awarding 11 new caps.

At test level the mind is crucial and Los Pumas had a positive mindset going into the game in San Juan, something which they hadn’t been showing with the Jaguares. Yes, they are different teams, but they are both made up by the same players. Something clicked once they moved into the Pumas environment. If that could be bottled up...

It is not about going for the panic button, but if there is a trend in Argentine rugby, then that has to be worrying. June has been, for the last few years, a busy month with the top team, the second XV and the U20s all competing at their own levels, creating the need for a huge amount of organisation in terms of coaching, medical and training staff. In all there are almost 100 players representing the country and with them are close to 40 staff members.

Logistics are in place to make players’ lives easier and they only need to play to the best of their ability. Winning is what high performance sport is all about: creating and sustaining the consistency of high-level performance.

Never, ever, can a team be satisfied. Falling into that trap can be the biggest problem for players and team. Focus is a key word, being in and living the moment.

The elite player recognises, understands, decides and executes at a quicker speed. This is what Argentine rugby was very good at. Is that no longer happening anymore?

That is a question that its teams need to answer.

 

@frankiedeges

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