Underdogs Jaguares were devastated to lose the Super Rugby final to the defending champions Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday, but said their breakout season has set Argentina up nicely for the World Cup.
After losing four of their first six games at the start of their fourth year in Super Rugby, the Jaguares stormed home winning 11 of the next 12 before falling to the All Blacks-laden Crusaders 19-3 in Saturday’s Grand Final in Christchurch.
Even then the Crusaders, the most prolific try-scoring team in the competition, could only cross the line once and had to rely on penalties for points.
“That was almost the only try opportunity they had even if we were under pressure several times,” coach Gonzalo Quesada said as he praised his side’s defence.
“I think the only frustration I have is we couldn’t score a try.”
Many of the Jaguares, who will provide the bulk of the Pumas heading to the World Cup in Japan later this year, were distraught at losing a final they were not expected to win.
As they wept openly, Quesada saw that as a positive for Argentina with the Rugby Championship and then the World Cup ahead of them.
“The guys are in tears because they went through a hell of a season,” he said.
“But it’s good to know there is no mediocrity. Because if they were happy just to be in the final their (state of) mind is not what we want.
“I think it was something quite historical. No one could have imagined this a couple of years ago, even at the beginning of this season.”
Quesada quoted successful All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as maintaining “belief” is a big factor for players and saw that as the key improvement for the Jaguares.
“I think our biggest achievement this season was that this team believed in themselves, in what they were doing and what they were trying to do.
“With that big confidence they will start the Rugby Championship and prepare for the World Cup.
“There were no injuries so the (World Cup) group will be this group plus all the international players who are in Europe, so I think that is a massive way of starting the preparation.”
Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has brought in Europe-based forwards Juan Figallo (Saracens), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Ramiro Herrera (Stade Francais) and backs Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais) and Benjamin Urdapilleta (Castres) to his World Cup squad.
But he has left out prominent wings Juan Imhoff (Racing 92) and Santiago Cordero (Exeter) believing the position is sufficiently covered by the Argentina-based Jaguares players.
Argentina, who reached the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup, are in Pool C for the World Cup in Japan along with England, France, USA and Tonga.