Argentina's national rugby team, Los Pumas, now coached by Michael Cheika and fully on the road to recovery, are aiming high: reaching the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in France 2023, as they did at the 2007 and 2015 tournaments, which were also played in Europe.
In March 2022, Mario Ledesma resigned as head coach of Los Pumas and in his place came the volcanic presence of Australian-Lebanese trainer Michael Cheika, who took charge of lifting up the Pumas and putting them back together again.
Since then, the regional rugby powerhouse has had a string of mixed results, marked by a historic first win over New Zealand (25-15 in Sydney) in November 2020.
The Pumas are also showing a more attractive face under the Cheika era, with attention-grabbing successes, such as their first win over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil (25-18 in Christchurch in 2022), a demonstration of power against Australia (48-17) and another prestigious success at Twickenham against England (30-29).
In July this year, during the recent Rugby Championship, Argentina were true to their tradition: a team with a lot of character, quite solid and fierce in defence, difficult to play against, but lacking imagination and variety in attack, which was evident in the defeat against the Springboks on 5 August (24-13).
"Argentina is characterised by a consistent defence. For this World Cup, the team also wants to be very effective in the 22-metre zone and score points every time they enter that area," said 32-year-old hooker Facundo Bosch.
Despite unusual problems in the scrum or at the posts due to the absence of Emiliano Boffelli, Argentina still showed they have the physical edge by finishing their Rugby Championship matches strongly (loss to the All Blacks 41-12, win in Australia 34-31 and a one-point defeat in South Africa 22-21).
On 26 August in Madrid, in their final pre-World Cup match, the Pumas, who lost left prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro during their preparation in Portugal, comfortably beat Spain 62-3.
"Argentina suffered a lot because of Covid, because of the disbanding of Jaguares, because of the results that weren't happening and finally Cheika and Contepomi [as assistant coach] came in. I see it as an upward trend," said former second row Rimas Alvarez-Kairelis, who played 44 games for Los Pumas and was part of the team that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2007.
At France 2023, the Argentine team can rely on a strong contingent of experienced players who play in England or in the French Top 14 and who know well the atmosphere of the stadiums in France: De la Fuente (Perpignan), Mallia and Chocobares in Toulouse, Lavanini (Clermont), Petti (Bordeaux) or prop Sclavi (La Rochelle).
The Pumas, who will be based in the seaside resort of La Baule (in the Loire-Atlantique department), are in Pool D. They open against England in Marseille on 9 September, before facing Samoa, Chile and Japan.
The minimum objective is to avoid a disappointment similar to the one they suffered at the 2019 World Cup, when they were eliminated in the group stage for the first time since 2003.
After the opener at the Velodrome Stadium against England, who are coming off the back of a historic defeat to Fiji at the Twickenham 'Cathedral', Los Pumas will have a tough test on September 22 in Saint-Étienne against fierce Samoa, who came close to beating Ireland in a warm-up match (17-13).
Then, on September 30 in Nantes, they will play weak World Cup debutants Chile, before closing their group stage campaign against Japan on October 8 at La Beaujoire, the Nantes stadium.