Everything you need to know about Los Pumas and the Wallabies

11 Sep 2012
Everything you need to know about Los Pumas and the Wallabies

A regular opponent for Australia, after being introduced to full internationals in 1979; Argentina achieved its biggest success on the Test stage at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, where Los Pumas finished third. Argentina twice beat hosts France at that tournament, in the opening match and again in the third and fourth playoff. Los Pumas backed that performance up last year in New Zealand, where it beat Scotland to advance to a third quarter-final appearance at the Rugby World Cup, before being gallant in defeat against the tournament hosts.

National Emblem: The Puma
Home Union: Union Argentina de Rugby
Founded: 1899 (as the River Plate Rugby Union)
Rugby World Cup Record: 3rd 2007, Quarter-finalist 1999, 2011; pool participants 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003
Current IRB Ranking: 8
Coach: Santiago Phelan
Captain: Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe
On the web: uarrugby@uar.com.ar

Territorial Size: 2,766,891.2 km2
Population: 40,091,359
Capital: Buenos Aires
Language: Spanish
Most Notable Landmark: El Obelisco – Spire that is a focal point of nationalist passion in Buenos Aires
Famous Citizen: Maradona – Football star
Number of Clubs: 419

Prior to 2007, Argentina had attended all five previous World Cups, but had only made it beyond the pool stages once, being eliminated by France in the quarter-finals of the 1999 event. Australia has twice played Argentina at World Cups, although the most recent tournament meeting in the opener from 2003 represents the last match to have been played between the two nations. The relationship promises to improve in frequency after Argentina‟s acceptance into The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship for a minimum of the next four years.

The Last Meeting (in Australia) – Australia 24, Argentina 8 at Sydney, 10 October, 2003

Australia scored two tries to one as it opened its home Rugby World Cup with a comfortable win over Los Pumas in front of 81,350 people at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. The Wallabies scored a try in each half against a spirited visiting outfit that nonetheless failed to advance from the pool into the tournament quarter-finals. This was the second meeting between the two nations at a World Cup, with Australia having beaten Argentina in its opening match of the successful 1991 campaign.

For Australia: Tries by Wendell Sailor and Joe Roff; conversion and 4 penalty goals by Elton Flatley.
For Argentina: Try by Ignacio Corletto; penalty goal by Felipe Contepomi

The Last Meeting (in Argentina) – Australia 17, Argentina 6 at Buenos Aires, 2 November, 2002

Australia scored just one try but still managed to record its biggest victory on Argentine soil after a tough 11-point win in front of over 70,000 people at the River Plate Stadium. The only try of the match was scored by the future Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock. Mortlock had made his Test debut against Argentina in Brisbane two years previously, and had also scored when the two sides had last met in Canberra, in the second Test of the 2000 series.

For Australia: Try by Stirling Mortlock; penalty goals by Matthew Burke (3) and Elton Flatley.
For Argentina: 2 penalty goals by Felipe Contepomi.


At All Venues: Australia 12 wins, Argentina 4 wins, 1 drawn
In Australia: Australia 8 wins, Argentina 1 win
In Argentina: Australia 3 wins, Argentina 3 wins, 1 drawn
At Neutral Venues: Australia 1 win
Biggest Australian win (margin) at all venues: 47 (53-6), Brisbane, 2000
Biggest Australian win (margin) in Argentina: 11 (17-6), Buenos Aires, 2002
Heaviest Australian defeat (margin) at all venues: 15 (3-18), Brisbane, 1983
Heaviest Australian defeat (margin) in Argentina: 11 (13-24), Buenos Aires, 1979
Biggest Australian winning score at all venues: 53 (53-7), Brisbane 1995 & (53-6) Brisbane, 2000
Biggest Australian winning score in Argentina: 23 (23-15), Buenos Aires, 1997
Heaviest Australian defeat (score) at all venues: 27 (19-27), Buenos Aires, 1987
Heaviest Australian defeat (score) in Argentina: 27 (19-27), Buenos Aires, 1987
Most points scored by Australia at all venues: 53 (53-7), Brisbane 1995 & (53-6) Brisbane, 2000
Most points scored by Australia in Argentina: 23 (23-15), Buenos Aires, 1997
Most points conceded by Australia at all venues: 27 (19-27), Buenos Aires, 1987
Most points conceded by Australia in Argentina: 27 (19-27), Buenos Aires, 1987
Most tries scored by Australia at all venues: 9, Brisbane, 2000
Most tries conceded by Australia at all venues: 3, Brisbane, 1986

Individual Player Statistics

Most appearances by an Australian player against Argentina: 8, George Gregan, 1995-2003
Most points in a Test by an Australian player against Argentina: 28, Michael Lynagh, Brisbane, 1995
Most points in a Test by an Argentine player against Australia: 23, Hugo Porta, Buenos Aires, 1987
Most tries in a Test by an Australian player against Argentina: 4, Chris Latham, Brisbane, 2000
Most tries in a Test by an Argentine player against Australia: 2 Rafael Madero, Buenos Aires, 1979 & Martin Teran, Llanelli, 1991
Most tries in a Test career by an Australian player against Argentina: 9, David Campese, (from seven Tests) 1983-95

Leading Australian Point-scorers against Argentina

114 Michael Lynagh
51 David Campese
28 Joe Roff
27 Stirling Mortlock
25 Chris Latham

Leading Point-scorers for Argentina against Australia

86 Hugo Porta
24 Felipe Contepomi

Leading Australian Try-scorers against Argentina

9 David Campese
5 Chris Latham
4 Brendan Moon
4 Joe Roff

Leading Try-scorers for Argentina against Australia

2 by six players

Most Australian Caps against Argentina

8 George Gregan
7 David Campese
7 Michael Lynagh
7 John Eales

Most Argentine Caps against Australia

8 Rafael Madero
8 Lisandro Arbizu
8 Rolando Martin
7 Agustin Pichot
7 Hugo Porta

Background Notes:

The Boss: Santiago Phelan locked the Argentine scrum through 44 Tests between 1997 and 2003, appearing at both the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups. Although he played four Tests during his debut season, taking his maiden bow against Uruguay, Phelan missed that year‟s two home Tests against the Wallabies – which included a two-point victory by Argentina in the second international. Phelan didn‟t encounter Australia until the 2000 tour, on which the Tests were lost at Brisbane and Canberra. Phelan went on to face the Wallabies four times as a player without success.

He retired after the 2003 Rugby World Cup, but returned to the stage five years later as Argentina‟s coach, taking over after Marcello Loffreda had guided Los Pumas to the giddy heights of third at the 2007 world tournament. Phelan made a winning start to his Test coaching career, as Argentina beat Scotland 21-15 at Rosario – where the Wallabies will visit next month. But he endured a tough initiation as an international coach, plagued by preparation problems due to an inability to secure first choice players from their European clubs. This saw just six wins achieved from the mere 19 Tests Argentina played between World Cups. That statistic makes the more than respectable showing achieved by Los Pumas at last year‟s Rugby World Cup all the more remarkable.

The 2007 Bronze Medalists backed up that performance by advancing to the quarter-finals in New Zealand, denying Scotland a place in the last eight for the first time from a competitive pool which also included England. Argentina eventually bowed out after a strong quarter-final showing against the All Blacks, with the overall performance earning Phelan a two-year extension to his contract. He has since built on what was achieved last year

by beating Italy, sharing a home series with World Cup finalists France, and then making an encouraging start to The Rugby Championship. Argentina arrived in Australia last Sunday fresh from a 16-16 draw against South Africa at Mendoza which was followed by a 5-21 defeat to New Zealand at Wellington in which there was more merit than the final score indicates.

Put a Cork in It: The Pumas biggest cat, skipper and No 8 Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe, is a beast of a man, but it wasn‟t always that way for the now Toulon-based loose forward. His nickname translates from Spanish as “Cork” and relates to his time as a child, where he was rather shamefully teased by his friends as having had a big head on top of a slim body, with the charge that his head was effectively the “Cork” at the top of a champagne bottle. Unfortunately for Lobbe, the tag has stuck, although he will happily live with it if Los Pumas can uncork the „champers‟ at various times through the Rugby Championship.

The first Test: Argentina‟s first encounter with Australia also provided Los Pumas with a maiden Test win over a full IRB member, when Mark Loane‟s tourists were humbled 24-13 in the first Test. Although the visitors fought back to square the series in the return game, the tour is remembered for the golden boot of Argentine ace Hugo Porta. The incomparable flyhalf, who is the most influential player to date to have been produced by South America, kicked three dropped goals among the 16 points he contributed to Argentina‟s victory. Porta, who finally retired after the 1987 Rugby World Cup with 590 Test points to his name, was at it again when he inspired Argentina to its first victory over France in 1985. Later that same year, he kicked all 21 points as Argentina came the closest it has yet been to beating the All Blacks, holding New Zealand to a draw in Buenos Aires. Porta kicked 28 dropped goals during his Test career and held the IRB record until his mark was eclipsed by England‟s Jonny Wilkinson in 2009.

Bold in Bronze: Argentina‟s achievement in finishing third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup ranks as the high watermark for the side on the international stage, but there had been enough indicators in the lead up to that tournament to suggest a bold showing was coming. Argentina had won its first home series against France in 2003, and then beat the French at their previously impregnable south coast home fortress of Marseilles the following year. Los Pumas drew 25-25 with the British & Irish Lions in Cardiff in 2005, prior to their departure for New Zealand, before beating England at Twickenham the following year.

Amateur in Outlook: The game might be globally professional but amateur rugby still thrives in Argentina, with the domestic leagues in the country still purely a play for pleasure pastime. This has ensured that all of Argentina‟s best players join overseas clubs, being particularly hot property in Italy, France and more recently among the Celtic nations. A third of Argentina‟s squad at last year‟s World Cup were either still „part-time professionals‟, or only recent graduates into the fulltime ranks. The need to come to an arrangement with foreign clubs over player access, which was ultimately resolved when the IRB got involved, was one of the sticking points that had to be overcome prior to Argentine entry into The Rugby Championship. Twenty-four of the Argentina squad for the tournament are based with clubs in European, with most attached to French clubs.

The Golden Goal-kickers: They might have produced plenty of big props but Argentina has also produced its fair share of golden goal-kickers, with the mantle now falling to the mercurial Racing Metro (France) flyhalf Juan-Martin Fernandez. The injury plagued 30-year-old, who had an ill-fated season in Super Rugby with the Sharks in 2009, starred for the Rugby World Cup Bronze medalists of 2007, but was then denied a repeat performance four years later, being rubbed out of the New Zealand tournament with a knee injury. Fit again, Fernandez won‟t captain the side, but he will wield as much of an influence as the man he is succeeding in the Pumas number 10 jersey: the recently retired former skipper Felipe Contepomi.

Contepomi, who rolled off a production line that had also included „Gonzo‟ the Great Quesada, and the incomparable Hugo Porta, was troubled by a rib cartilage injury at last year‟s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand which hampered his goal-kicking accuracy. Even so, he finished his Test career against France in June having established himself as his country‟s record point-scorer, by surpassing both his first „tutor‟ Quesada, as well as Porta. Contepomi is equally accomplished off the field, having qualified as a doctor in Buenos Aires before his pro career took off. His club career continues, with Stade Francais in France, although Contepomi‟s best moments came as a former team-mate of Rocky Elsom‟s at Leinster. The pair were at the heart of the Irish club‟s drive to its maiden European Cup title in 2008-09. Contepomi „emerged‟ out of the shadow of arguably the greatest goal-kicker to have appeared at a Rugby World Cup – Gonzalo Quesada.

Now head coach at the Paris-based Racing Metro club, from where he this year recruited the Wallabies‟ scrum coach Patricio Noriega; Quesada made an extraordinary impact on the 1999 Rugby World Cup, finishing as the tournament‟s leading point-scorer. Quesada‟s deliberate kicking style, which involved a prolonged preparation and a distinctive approach to the ball, might have taken time but it was efficient, as the 102 points the Argentine pivot scored at the tournament proved. Its effectiveness was not lost on the French, with the Argentine subsequently being recruited as France‟s kicking coach once his playing career was completed.

The Rise of the Puma: They might be known universally as „Los Pumas‟ but the name was originally coined for Argentina by mistake during the team‟s 1965 tour of South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). A local journalist, who was looking for a name with which to describe the tourists, mistook the animal logo on the team‟s playing jersey as a Puma rather than a Jaguar. The name has stuck, although the Jaguar moniker is now tagged to Argentina‟s B team, which has been prominent in recent years playing against second tier European and African nations. The „Jaguar‟ name was also used for the combined South American sides that toured South Africa during the apartheid era.

Did you know?: The game in Argentina began at a similar time as it did in both New Zealand and Australia, with the first recorded match being played in 1873.
Early Steps: The first „Test‟ to be played by an Argentine national team came against a touring combined British team which was predominantly English but did feature a few Scots in 1910. The visitors won 28-3 although they did not award caps for the match. Argentina had to wait until September 1936 until it won a Test match, beating neighbours Chile 29-0 in Valparaiso.

South American Solidarity: While the game on the South American continent hasn‟t flourished to the extent that Argentine authorities have hoped, it hasn‟t been for a
lack of trying on behalf of the UAR. Argentina founded the first South American championship in 1951, with Chile, Uruguay and Brazil invited to take part alongside the host nation. The tournament has now been held on 30 occasions, with Argentina totally dominant, even though it now fields its second-tier Jaguars team, as opposed to the front line Pumas. The advent of the annual competition has assisted with the growth of the game in Uruguay, which narrowly missed out on qualification last year after competing in the last three Rugby World Cups. Chile has also shown signs of improvement playing against tier two nations like the United States and Canada alongside their South American neighbours.

The South African Connection: There is no doubt that of all of the major nations, South Africa has done the most to assist with the on-going development of Argentine rugby. Two tours by the combined South American Jaguars during the apartheid era helped to provide the Springboks with a lifeline during the period of international isolation. South Africa has not forgotten that assistance. SA Rugby enthusiastically supported Los Pumas‟ claims for inclusion in The Rugby Championship, while also providing a hands on development opportunity through the recent inclusion of an Argentine team, alongside Namibia, in their second tier Vodacom Cup provincial tournament. Playing out of Potchefstroom on the African high veldt, the Argentina participation at provincial level in South Africa reached its zenith last year when the Pampas XV won all 11 of its matches, beating an experienced Blue Bulls side 14-9 in a tournament final the South Americans „hosted‟ at their satellite home base. The Pampas XV, who this year featured in the Vodacom Cup for the third time, provided 10 of Argentina‟s Rugby World Cup squad from last year, and seven of the players selected for this year‟s inaugural Rugby Championship.

A Bit Of Argy Bargy!: France might have made three of the seven finals since the Rugby World Cup was introduced in 1987 but when it comes to Latin rugby affairs; Los Pumas are the big dogs (or is that big cats?) on the reservation. Although this year‟s June series between the two nations was shared one-apiece; when France won the second match 49-10, it was just the fourth win the French had achieved over Los Pumas from the last 12 encounters. And even then, it was only claimed after Argentina had rested a number of their more experienced players on the day in order to prepare for The Rugby Championship! So light on background were the Pumas for that match, they boasted just 156 collective Test caps – and the retiring skipper Felipe Contepomi had over half of them! Argentina, which also beat Italy in June, had earlier won the first Test of the French series 23-20, undoing the tourists with a near length of field try a minute before the end of the first Test at Cordoba. Los Pumas were the first visiting side from anywhere to beat Les Bleus at their southern coast fortress of Marseilles, where the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies have all fallen, in 2004; Argentina also twice beat the French at their home Rugby World Cup in 2007.

Prepared Pumas: Argentina might have been handicapped by preparation issues in the past, but that isn‟t a mistake the country made before it joined the Rugby Championship. The Argentine squad spent an almost unprecedented six weeks together in camp prior to the start of the competition, five of which involved input from the ex-All Blacks and Wales coach Graham Henry, who‟d also spent two weeks with the squad in June. A deal brokered with the IRB and European clubs meant that Argentina‟s top 24-foreign-based players sat out Los Pumas‟ three June Tests, in order to get their desired mid-year club break. In return for agreeing to the rehabilitation window when Argentina was entitled to call on the players for Test duty, the clubs agreed to release them for the entirety of the Rugby Championship. Argentina‟s build up to its inaugural participation in the Southern Hemisphere championship saw two games played against the touring French club Stade Francais in early August. It also saw the squad conduct further training under the guidance of American company, Athletes Performance, which put the players through their paces in an exhausting programme which has previously reaped success for NFL (American Football), NHL (American Hockey) and US Olympic athletes. The training camps, which are run at Pensacola in Florida, were also conducted before the 2007 Rugby World Cup, where the Pumas went on to finish third.