Pumas seek to rediscover scrum reputation for Rugby Championship

Argentina boss Ledesma will hope to see the improvements in the scrum during the Rugby Championship this year. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The alarm bells rang loud and clear for Pumas coach Mario Ledesma when Argentina conceded three tries from scrums in a 28-17 loss to Ireland in Dublin last November.

This was Argentina, where scrummaging was part of the rugby DNA, so Ledesma decided something had to be done, and done quickly before this year's World Cup in Japan.

Ledesma, a world class hooker in his day who took charge of the Pumas last year after working as scrum coach for Australia under Michael Cheika, turned to Eduardo Fernandez Gill.

Fernandez Gill, coach of the Pumitas at four under-20 World Cups, was appointed in March and charged with leading a search for front-row talent the length and breadth of the country.

"When Mario took charge of the Pumas he set out to recover what the scrum means as a flag of Argentine rugby," Gill told Reuters. "We had taken such a big step backwards that when we played Ireland last year the three tries we conceded came from scrums."

The plan was to get Argentine scrums to work the way they did before a spate of serious spinal injuries triggered a 2016 ban on scrums from moving more than 1.5m.

That ban is gradually being phased out this year but the repercussions are still working their way through the system.

"We have not been producing props as we should have done," the 61-year-old said at his club Regatas de Buena Vista.

Gill stated that Ledesma wanted to emulate the plan put in place 30 years ago by world champions New Zealand, who Argentina face on Saturday in their Rugby Championship opener.

"New Zealand started with Mike Cron, who worked through their training centres to the top as coach of all their scrums right up to the All Blacks," said Gill.

"So Mario wanted to sort of copy that to bring in a person to transmit the principles and meaning of scrummaging in rugby and get back to what is our DNA."

Daniel Hourcade, Ledesma's predecessor as coach, did not give his Pumas scrum as much importance as developing a more open and attacking style.

That did make the Pumas one of the most attractive teams in the international game and helped them reach the semi-finals of the World Cup for the second time in 2015.

But repeating that feat in Japan without a very good scrum will be almost impossible, Fernandez Gill believes, especially as Argentina face the task of qualifying from a pool also including England and France.

The Pumas earned their reputation as top scrummagers with their low gravity shove known as "la bajadita", when all eight forwards, including the hooker, pushed in unison.

Gill added: "At one time we made a very big difference to scrummaging. We exported props who were extraordinary ambassadors for Argentine rugby. (Other countries) became convinced that if they had Argentine props, they could have an Argentine scrum.

"(But) we didn't give the scrum the importance it needed, and what it's going to need in the upcoming World Cup.

Australia loosehead prop Scott Sio, who came through at the Wallabies under Ledesma, said it was only natural for teams to go through good and bad spells in the scrum.

"I think every team's going to go through (a dip)," he said. "To go through a transition phase like that is always tough, you've got to blood young players and give them the experience."

"To go through a transition phase like that is always tough, you've got to blood young players and give them the experience."