Australia’s assistant coach Stephen Larkham ought to have known better than to throw an admittedly light-hearted piece of sledging Mario Ledesma’s way.
Larkham had suggested ahead of Australia’s home game with Argentina, in September’s Rugby Championship, that the Pumas’ new head coach had shown no real coaching ability during his two-year stint working with the Wallabies’ forwards.
Though Ledesma responded by throwing a line back in Larkham’s direction – saying that Michael Cheika double-jobs by not only being Wallaby head coach but also effectively performing Larkham’s by being the one devising the attack moves – the former Pumas’ hooker saved the best to last as Argentina turned Australia over in their own backyard.
Not only that but, just four games after taking charge of the Pumas, Ledesma had earned his squad a first win on Australian soil for 35 years.
It was hardly due to Larkham’s faux pas, though, as Argentina have been quietly improving, which is no bad thing with the World Cup getting ever closer.
Earlier, they had beaten South Africa to end an 11-game losing streak in the Rugby Championship and had been competitive against New Zealand.
Ledesma’s playing days were associated with Argentina’s mostly one-dimensional approach to pummelling sides up front, but he is very much a believer in further developing the Pumas as a side capable of a multi-faceted game.
Though Joe Schmidt and his coaching team weren’t up for providing Ledesma with sloppy motivational soundbites, the Pumas will need no extra encouragement to put it up to Ireland and try and shock them in the way they managed at three World Cups.
Argentina, ranked ninth in the world, have rarely lacked team spirit but the questionable rewards for selecting from players based at home – and playing Super Rugby for the Jaguares who Ledesma coached before his Pumas role – are potentially baring fruit through the obvious continuity of selection, although the policy of ignoring overseas players has been relaxed.
The threat offered by the back three of Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano has brought a new dimension.
Along with out-half Nicolas Sanchez, Argentina offer much in attack, though defensively they are vulnerable and, up front, nowhere near as formidable as used to be traditionally the case.
The selection of lock Guido Petti in today’s back-row suggests that Ledesma wants a more physical threat up front a year on from losing in Dublin.
It’s big ask, but Ledesma’s Pumas will fight for everything.