Big fortnight for Rassie Erasmus and Mario Ledesma
This Saturday’s Test in Durban and next weekend’s clash in Mendoza must be statements of intent through the performance of their respective teams for Rassie Erasmus and Mario Ledesma.
Failure to do so may have lingering effects for the Springbok and Los Pumas’ coaches respectively.
For Erasmus‚ who won hearts and minds‚ and two out of four tests in June‚ the real Test has arrived in the Rugby Championship.
Two wins in June would ordinarily be viewed as a modest return‚ but the coach did cast his selection net wider than is generally acceptable at the highest level.
He will “bravely” continue to spread game time among his players in the Rugby Championship‚ but Erasmus will also need to establish something resembling his best 23 by the time they embark on the Australasian leg of the competition.
Before that and given what transpired in June‚ there will be the expectation for the Springboks to crank it up a notch or two against Argentina.
The Boks have generally laboured to victory over the Pumas in recent years and they need performances of fist thumping authority over the next few weeks.
Much is expected of Ledesma on his maiden voyage as Argentina coach. It is hoped he can restore passion and pride in the Los Pumas jersey after a sequence that yielded just three wins in their last 23 matches.
Since they beat the Springboks in Durban two years ago‚ they have only beaten Japan‚ Georgia and Italy.
By June when they lost home Tests to Wales (twice) and suffer humiliation at the hands of Scotland‚ erstwhile coach Daniel Hourcade felt the need to resign.
Just as Hourcade was hitting rock bottom‚ Ledesma’s star was on the rise.
He had made quite an impression in his first year in charge of the Jaguares in Super Rugby.
He was brought in to help raise the performance of a team whose performance had not been commensurate with their international experience in their ranks.
After a wobbly start including three home defeats Ledesma steered his side to four wins in Australasia‚ including wins against the Blues in Auckland and the Chiefs in Rotorua.
They went on a seven-match unbeaten run which helped propel the Jaguares into the play-offs for the first time.
After 17 years playing and coaching abroad Ledesma’s return to Argentina is seen as a homecoming.
He coached in France and was assistant to Michael Cheika at the Wallabies before he decided to return home.
Much will rest on his broad shoulders. Argentina’s coaches have had it tough for the longest time.
Not since Alex Wylie who between 2000 and 2001 had a win percentage of 57‚ and Marcelo Loffreda (2001 to 2007) for a return of 59‚ have the Pumas had periods of sustained success.
Of course back then Los Pumas didn’t play the All Blacks‚ Wallabies and the Springboks with the frequency they do now.
Santiago Phelan who coached the team from 2007 to 2013 had a paltry 29 percent win ratio‚ before Hourcade helped facilitate further slide.
Ledesma‚ the affable former front ranker‚ is seen as their messiah.