Rugby has Argentina’s attention

Diego Maradona made a promise to the Argentinian rugby team as they all danced in the dressing room celebrating a group-stage win, saying he’d be back to watch them in the World Cup semi-finals.

Surprising to some, the football great should be there at Twickenham when Argentina face two-time champion Australia on Sunday for a spot in the final.

Argentina’s run through the tournament was quite a revelation for many rugby followers, particularly the stunning opening spell in the 43-20 win over Six Nations champion Ireland in the quarter-finals.

Regular exposure to Tests against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in the Rugby Championship has made the Pumas more competitive, and more expansive in their style – resulting in 26 tries so far, second only to the All Blacks.

Argentina will be at full strength after captain Agustin Creevy was passed fit following a leg injury and outside centre Marcelo Bosch returned from suspension, while Martin Landajo was picked again to start at scrumhalf over Tomas Cubelli.

Much has been made of the improvements in Argentina’s game under Daniel Hourcade, who has guided the Pumas in the Rugby Championship.

They beat Australia 21-17 in Mendoza last year – Argentina’s first ever in the tournament – and this season enjoyed a first win ever against South Africa, over there too.

Argentina beat France twice in 2007 to finish third, but that was with a different generation of players – only centre Juan Martin Hernandez and flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe remain – and a game revolving around scrums, rucks, mauls and kicks.

The Pumas were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual champion New Zealand in 2011.

“We have arrived in a better way because of four years playing in the Rugby Championship – not only for our game but mentally, too,” Hourcade said.

“We know how strong the Australian defence is but that doesn’t mean we can’t score points against them. My team has the skill to cause damage to any team.”

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