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Puma power: Argentinian rugby

By Sean Davies

Anthem: Republica Argentina
Nick name: The Pumas
Playing colours: Light blue & white

Scrummaging power is the defining image of Puma rugby
Argentinian rugby has a reputation for hard-nosed, no-nonsense forward play, and the country's teams always provide a stern test for Wales.

Over the years they have been perhaps the most feared scrummagers in world rugby, reflecting the macho, meat-eating culture of the country.

When the uncompromising forward power is allied to a ruthless kicker - Hugo Porta and Gonzalo Quesada to name just two - the Pumas have an efficient rugby machine capable of troubling all but the very best.

Perhaps the emphasis on forward play has hindered the development of an all-round game in Argentina, their sides failing to make the most of such talented backs as Agustin Pichot and Felipe Contepomi.

The dispersal of their rugby talent around the globe in the professional era has exposed their leading players to different rugby cultures, though.

And any team coming off the pitch after facing the Pumas will know that they've been through the shredder.

Wales v Argentina: The history

Rugby was brought to Argentina by the British and the first game was played in the country in 1873.

Colin Charvis scores against Argentina at the 1999 World Cup
Graham Henry's Wales had some history with the Pumas

The Argentinian Rugby Union was formed in 1899 by four clubs from Buenos Aires, taking the name of the River Plate Rugby Football Union.

Later known as the Union Argentina de Rugby, they only became an official member of the International Rugby Board after being invited to the first World Cup in 1987.

Their Pumas nick-name is thought to be the result of a journalist on their first overseas tour to South Africa in 1965 mistaking the jaguar on their crest for a puma.

Before 1998, Wales had met Argentina only once in a capped international (honours were shared in three non-cap games) - a 16-7 win for the home side at the Arms Park in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

There emerged something of a history between the Pumas and Graham Henry's Wales team, though.

Wales faced Argentina at Stradey Park in November 1998 for Henry's second game in charge of the national side.

Much of the attacking promise that was evident in their previous match against South Africa at Wembley was again on show as the backs tore the visiting defence apart.

But the Pumas nearly snatched the game as their scrum ruthlessly drove through the lightweight Welsh front five.

Barely able to hold up the scrum, Wales clung on for a 43-30 victory. The experience had a great effect on Henry's thinking on international rugby.

Peter Rogers, Ben Evans and Garin Jenkins were drafted into the front row, and ever after Henry favoured powerful front fives who were rarely bested in the tight.

The solid platform helped Wales to Five Nations wins over France and England, leaving them on a high for their pre-World Cup summer tour to... Argentina.

Mauricio Reggiardo
Wales challenged Argentina's beefy forwards

The men in red were soon exposed to the harsh nature of an Argentinian tour, with no-holds-barred punch-ups a feature of the provincial games.

In both Test matches Wales fell behind, but the character in the team helped see them through.

A major factor was the dominance Wales held in the scrum. This seemed to infuriate the proud Pumas, leading them into petulant personal battles ahead of percentage play.

A 36-26 win for the tourists in the first Test was followed by a 23-16 success in the second, the first time a British or Irish team had won a series in Argentina.

After the tour, further Welsh successes followed against South Africa, Canada and France.

As the men in red prepared for the opening of the Rugby World Cup at their new Millennium Stadium, the unbeaten record stood at eight games.

Agustin Pichot
Argentina's talented backs do not always get the chance to shine

On the biggest stage in the rugby world, Wales' opponents were again the now-familiar Pumas.

Expectations in the country were soaring, but it turned into a damp squib of a game.

Wales retained the whip hand in the forwards, virtually assuring victory, but their attacking game had been worked out by their opponents.

The painstaking, precision kicking of Quesada kept the Pumas in the game, but a Colin Charvis try early in the second half sealed a Welsh victory, 23-18.

The simmering rivalry between the two teams had again been evident, and the game was mainly memorable for a controversial fight between Charvis and Argentinian prop Roberto Grau.

The Pumas went on to record a shock 28-24 success over Ireland before falling 47-26 at the quarter-final stage to France.

Wales exited at the same stage against eventual champions Australia, but Henry's reign as the Great Redeemer had long passed its zenith.

Iestyn Harris
Argentina gave Iestyn Harris a miserable Test debut

The Pumas returned to Cardiff in the autumn of 2001 when a misfiring Wales handed the new redeemer, Iestyn Harris, his first cap after a mere handful of union games.

With Harris predictably out of his depth, his opposite number Contepomi controlled the game and led his side to a crushing 30-16 win.

When the two sides next met it was the first major test for Wales' new coach Mike Ruddock, a man brought in as a forward troubleshooter.

Ruddock took Wales on a two-Test summer tour of Argentina - and suffered his first reverse in the job in the opening game in Tucuman.

Wales' muddled defence saw them fall to a 50-44 defeat in an exasperating, 11-try encounter.

Ruddock rallied his troops for the second Test in Buenos Aires where a much more composed display - and a dazzling first-half hat-trick by wing Shane Williams - gave them a 35-20 victory.

Shane Williams celebrates success against Argentina in 2004
Williams got a spectacular hat-trick against the Pumas in 2004

Wales went through the glory of a Grand Slam and the ignominy of Ruddock's premature departure, while Argentina cemented their position near the top of the second tier of world rugby.

That was emphasised in 2005 when a Pumas side missing 26 front-line players held the Lions to a 25-25 draw at the Millennium Stadium.

After the game, coach Marcelo Loffreda made an impassioned plea for a professional rugby structure in his country and for the team to be allowed to join either the Six Nations or the Tri Nations series.

On Wales' 2006 summer tour new coach Gareth Jenkins got his first taste of Puma power.

An inexperienced touring line-up performed well in the first Test in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, before falling 27-25.

But a mighty performance from the home side in Buenos Aires saw them seal the series with an emphatic 45-27 victory.

Jenkins was under big pressure the next time the sides met, but his side held on for a low-key, 27-20 Millennium Stadium win as Wales warmed up for their disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign.

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see also
Wales v Argentina: Full record
28 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Argentinian anthem - República Argentina
28 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Welsh
Country profile: Argentina
29 May 12 |  Country profiles

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