Rugby Championship state of play 2019: Argentina
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By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 15/07/19 9:29am
Argentina kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against New Zealand in Buenos Aires on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Ahead of this year's tournament, we take a look at the Pumas and whether they can upset the odds to secure their first title ahead of the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa.
Will home advantage count?
This year's edition of the Rugby Championship will be a truncated one due to the Rugby World Cup kicking off midway through September, with each team playing just three matches rather than the usual six.
Argentina are one of the sides who will play two of their three games at home. They welcome New Zealand to Estadio José Amalfitani on the opening weekend and then host South Africa at Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena in Salta on August 11.
For the Springboks, that means a return to the city where a late penalty from Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias saw the hosts snatch a 26-24 victory in 2016. They were also beaten 32-19 by the Pumas in Mendoza last year.
Argentina's first Rugby Championship win came at the latter venue in 2014 too, when they came back from 14-8 down at half time to win 21-17.
But while history suggests Mario Ledesma's side will be confident of overcoming the South Africans on their own patch, they have yet to beat the All Blacks either home or away since joining the competition in 2012.
There is a first time for everything though and they will have a raucous home crowd behind them when they tackle New Zealand in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Pumas boosted by Jaguares displays
Argentina will undoubtedly go into this year's Rugby Championship buoyed by the history-making performance of the country's Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares.
Having qualified for the play-offs for the first time last year, the Buenos Aires-based outfit managed to get all the way to the final of the 2019 competition, where they faced the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Given they are the sole franchise in Argentina, the vast majority of the Jaguares team is comprised of international players and they will be coming up against many of those from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia they have been playing week in, week out during the club season.
Selection rules for the national team have been relaxed recently though, meaning European-based players such as Saracens' Juan Figallo, Toulon's Facundo Isa, Castres' Benjamin Urdapilleta, and Stade Francais pair Ramiro Herrera and Nicolas Sanchez are again in contention.
But with the Jaguares showing there are capable of beating, as well as competing, with the best the more established SANZAAR nations have to offer, it is no surprise they are still looking to Gonzalo Quesada's side to provide the vast majority of players.
Bouncing back from a tough winter
The Pumas enjoyed their best-ever showing in the Rugby Championship last year, beating both South Africa and Australia to record two wins in the tournament for the first time.
They were unable to keep that going during their end-of-year tour in the Northern Hemisphere though, losing their Tests against France, Ireland and Scotland, and suffering a 38-35 defeat at the hands of the Barbarians.
Former national team hooker Ledesma was able to run the rule over some new faces though, with Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Rodrigo Bruni and Lucio Sordoni all earning their first Test caps during the tour.
This year's truncated Rugby Championship gives fewer chances to chalk up victories over their illustrious Southern Hemisphere rivals.
Oddly enough, however, the only time Argentina have not finished bottom of the table came in the last shortened tournament ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where a win over South Africa in the final round of matches lifted them up to third.
Building for the World Cup
That Rugby Championship finish in 2015 was the start of a run at the same year's World Cup in England, which saw Argentina reach the semi-finals before South Africa gained a bit of revenge over them by winning the third-place play-off.
It was their best performance since finishing third in 2007 and only once since 1999 have the Pumas failed to get out of their group at a World Cup.
Any positive results in the Rugby Championship can only serve as a confidence booster for the team, who are in Pool C along with England, France, USA and Tonga, and are expected to be in contention for a place in the knock-out rounds.
Ledesma will still have two warm-up internationals to fine-tune his side before they head to Japan, with another showdown against South Africa and an encounter with Russia lined up in August ahead of the deadline for submitting his 31-man squad for the World Cup on September 2.
But both individual and team performances in the Rugby Championship will go a long way to determining who will be on the plane for this year's global gathering, particularly with a shortened tournament leaving no margin for error.
Forwards: Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Javier Díaz, Santiago García Botta, Juan Figallo, Ramiro Herrera, Santiago Medrano, Enrique Pieretto, Lucio Sordoni, Agustín Creevy, Julián Montoya, Santiago Socino, Guido Petti, Tomás Lavanini, Matías Alemanno, Lucas Paulos, Pablo Matera, Tomás Lezana, Facundo Isa, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Rodrigo Bruni, Juan Manuel Leguizamón
Backs: Tomás Cubelli, Gonzalo Bertranou, Martín Landajo, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolás Sánchez, Benjamín Urdapilleta, Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, Domingo Miotti, Santiago González Iglesias, Jerónimo De La Fuente, Matías Orlando, Matías Moroni, Lucas Mensa, Juan Cruz Mallía, Bautista Ezcurra, Ramiro Moyano, Bautista Delguy, Sebastián Cancelliere, Emiliano Boffelli, Joaquín Tuculet, Manuel Montero, Santiago Carreras