Pumas fear second season syndrome
Fri, 23 Aug 2013 09:09
We had a lot to do, starting with the mentality of players
Argentina fear they may have fallen foul of the dreaded 'second season syndrome' in the Rugby Championship.
While South Africa will look to maintain the momentum from four victories and 25 tries this season, the Pumas are desperate to come back from the abyss when they face the Boks in Mendoza on Saturday.
The Springboks made a dream start to the Rugby Championship last Saturday in Soweto, scoring nine tries in a 73-13 romp against Los Pumas.
It was a record winning margin for the Southern Hemisphere championship and the Boks over the Pumas - casting South Africa in a new light of adventurous and exciting rugby rather than a predictable kick-and-chase outfit.
The Boks scored just 23 tries in 12 Tests last year.
This season they have already notched 25 five-pointers - against Italy, Scotland, Samoa and Argentina - with JJ Engelbrecht and Bryan Habana claiming four each.
But it is the nightmare of last week that continues to haunt the Pumas.
"We had a lot of things to do this week, starting with the mentality of the players," admitted Argentina coach Santiago Phelan.
"The team realises that the second season is going to be much tougher than the first and we are up against the three best teams in the world.
"We need to grow up, we need to learn about intensity, we need to keep playing the top teams in order to learn and improve," he stressed.
Dominant in the set pieces and loose exchanges a week ago, South Africa look set to triumph in a country where their biggest winning margin was 32 points nine years ago.
But if Argentina can rekindle the passion of last season and tackle better - they missed one in three in Soweto - another humiliating defeat should be avoided.
First they to rediscover their identity and pride as a rugby team, according to centre Marcelo Bosch.
All week they have talked up their will to recover their trademark strengths in defence, set pieces and never-say-die attitude and Bosch said that wanting to expand their game might have worked against them.
"Maybe last year we also lost matches by big scores, but I felt the team were there and confident in what they were doing. Last Saturday it was different," Bosch said.
"What we had been building for a long time was broken," he told reporters after a midweek practice.
"We weren't mentally prepared to handle what was happening to us. The challenge is to recover our identity in defence, which served us so well last year, and our game with the pack.
"Set pieces nowadays are essential, you can't play without them. You can't play a maul or scrum going backwards all the time, or a line-out that doesn't guarantee you quality balls to launch your game.
"Last year we had two good matches against [South Africa]," he said of a 6-27 loss in Cape Town and 16-all draw in Mendoza.
"We left the pitch strong and thinking we could do more," Bosch added.
"Maybe [last Saturday] we were aiming a lot at improving our attacking play and, unconsciously, we forgot about what makes this team strong, our identity which is defence and set pieces."
South African coach Heyneke Meyer and reminded his men in Green and Gold how close they came to suffering a first defeat in Argentina at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas last season.
A try by currently injured centre Francois Steyn after he charged down a clearance kick gave the Springboks a 16-16 draw they did not deserve.
Among the Argentine stars last August in the city at the foothills of the Andes were prop Rodrigo Roncero and No.8 and captain Juan Martin Hernandez Lobbe.
They instilled a passion to the Pumas pack that was sadly lacking last weekend with the South Americans a beaten team long before the final whistle.
It did not help a team competing in the Championship for only the second season that they lost lock Patricio Albacete and full-back Juan Martin Hernandez to early injuries.
Nor were chances of a maiden win boosted by the yellow carding of hooker Eusebio Guinazu for a deliberate knock-on and No.8 Leonardo Senatore for a high, dangerous tackle.
England-based Guinazu and Senatore are in the starting line-up again, but veteran workhorse Albacete and enterprising Hernandez have not recovered.
Lobbe, who helped French side Toulon win the Heineken Cup last season, remains sidelined and his continued absence is a massive blow.
"We experienced first-hand how passionate their supporters are and how they can lift their team," Meyer said.
"Our focus is on continuous improvement and we would like to keep on converting try-scoring opportunities, building on our good on-field discipline and improving our play at the breakdowns."
Satisfied that the team have improved since he took charge last year, Meyer wants to see the recent home form transferred to western Argentina.
His ambition with an unchanged starting line-up is another bonus-point victory against opponents who have made five alterations, three of them injury induced.
"We are developing a killer instinct as a team and the challenge now is to have the same attitude away from home," Meyer told reporters.
"Last weekend has to be forgotten and we must show ruthlessness against a wounded opponent. We were clinical in Soweto and we must be equally clinical in Mendoza.
"Those tries did not come from throwing the ball around, the team played with structure and purpose and wore down the Pumas. That is what we must build on."
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