Pumas downplay Bok clash's importance
ARGENTINA lock Patricio Albacete has downplayed the significance of Saturday's Four Nations opener against the Springboks, despite the match being hailed as one of the most important in the Pumas' history.
For most observers, Saturday's encounter will rank alongside Argentina's 2007 World Cup opening match against hosts France, which the Pumas won, as a red-letter day in their rugby history.
In terms of status, many among their massive travelling media contingent feel that the clash against the Boks is as important as that occasion but the experienced second-rower was less enthusiastic about putting the match in the same category.
"I don't believe it's one of the most important games in our history but I will say it is an historic match," Albacete said.
"It's the first match of the Four Nations and the first time Argentina is playing with the top three nations in the world in this competition, which makes it historic and special.
"We are conscious that we are playing against the best teams in the world, but this is what we have been waiting for and what we have prepared for.
"We are also aware that playing against the Boks, All Blacks and Wallabies will improve our rugby and we hope to progress each year.
"Our goal is to win some matches in this year's tournament but that doesn't mean we take the field without belief."
In an effort to ensure that they are competitive throughout the contest, the Pumas have spent nearly two months in camp preparing for the challenge of the new tournament, which will place huge demands on the depth of Argentinian rugby.
As part of their build-up, former All Black World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry has spent a total of three weeks with the Pumas squad and he will join them again in Australia and New Zealand next month.
Pumas coach Santiago Phelan praised Henry's input.
"Graham's influence has been very positive for us and his biggest strength has been to show the coaches how important organisation is," Phelan said.
"Tactically and technically he has given us a lot to work on and the players have responded well because he has such a high standing in the game.
"Graham has not tried to change the Pumas' philosophy of rugby, which is based on strong set pieces, mauling and good defence. He has worked on improving our skills with the ball in hand.
"He is adapting to our needs, not the other way around. He is trying to add to the Pumas' style of rugby, not take away from it."