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Argentina tour 2012 / Features
Argentinean Rugby
Losing the underdogs tag
Patricio Connolly
September 11, 2012
New Zealand's Richie McCaw tackles Argentina's Juan Manuel Leguizamon, New Zealand v Argentina, Rugby Championship, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, September 8, 2012
Argentina went toe-to-toe with the All Blacks for much of their game on Saturday © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Rugby Championship
Teams: Argentina

In the past, when the Pumas set out on tours to countries such as New Zealand, South Africa or Australia, there was a feeling of an imminent heavy defeat. There´s no need to go that far back to see a 53-6 defeat against the Wallabies in Brisbane or a 67-19 reverse against the All Blacks in Christchurch. And then back in 2008 they lost 63-9 to the Springboks in Johannesburg.

But nowadays, everything has changed. The Argentina team is playing as an equal against the southern powers in the Rugby Championship. That doesn't mean that they cannot get thrashed, as it happened to Ireland against the All Blacks in June, but that previous feeling of the "fear" of not living up to expectations has definitely disappeared.

"With the physical training we have, the experience and the individual game each of has, the one-on-one contests are improving a lot. It's just a matter of time until we become better than the rest," said the Exeter Chiefs' Gonzalo Camacho.

In addition, this Pumas squad no longer thinks about 'valiant' defeats. The main objective is to improve and grow in the game, especially in this tournament, but they now have the mentality of a winner, and not of someone just making up the numbers. "We are not satisfied with the result, because we wanted to win", admitted captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe after their 21-5 defeat to New Zealand in Wellington.

Julio Farias Cabello, the flanker that made his debut in 2010 with Los Pumas, also gave us his opinion: "It was a bitter pill to swallow; similar to what happened in the first game against South Africa, because we are not happy with the result. Honestly, we thought we were going to win the match".

The Pumas lost to South Africa in Cape Town 27-6 and then tied with them 16-16 in Mendoza in this Rugby Championship . They then went on to lose against the All Blacks. In none of those defeats did their opponents get the four-try bonus point. And Steve Hansen, head coach of New Zealand, praised Santiago Phelan's team by saying: "They have one of the best defences in the world".

Mario Ledesma, who retired following the last World Cup after 15 years with the national team, said after the tie with South Africa: "In every era of the Pumas, it has been scary to face any southern team. It keeps you alert. They don´t feel that way when they play against us.

"They don't have that extra sensation, that feeling that you can lose by a landslide. We do have that. It is good to feel it. We don't feel under pressure; it's just that fear of being killed, which makes you leave your body and soul on the field".

Today, the Pumas can play as equals with the giants of the South. We will have to wait for the results to come, but in the matches, the Argentina team plays at the same level as their illustrious counterparts. That "fear" of suffering a landslide loss is no longer an emotion because they have the ability to fight as equals. And the goal of winning, whether playing as the locals or the visitors, is always present.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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