WARE, England (Reuters) - Argentina take their scrummaging very seriously. No surprise there, but for flanker Pablo Matera and the Pumas forwards who pack down to get up close and personal with opponents the scrum is where their “personality” shines through.
The Pumas have a justifiable reputation as one of the best scrummaging units in international rugby and world champions New Zealand know all too well what awaits them in their World Cup Pool C opener at Wembley on Sunday.
For Matera, it is very much a source of pride. A badge of honour well earned.
“We love to hear that we are the best scrummagers in the world,” Matera, renowned for his aggressive and abrasive play, told Reuters.
”In Argentina we think the scrum is the personality of the team. In Argentina if you lose the scrum you are probably going to lose the match. We as a national team work the scrum so hard -- it’s a tool that gives us penalties to score points.
“It’s very important to us and we work hard to have one of the best, and hopefully the best (scrums) at the World Cup.”
Matera has no shortage of tough guys to scrum down with, from bulldozing prop Marcus Ayerza and influential skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy in the front row to fellow back rowers Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe.
Their experience and Matera’s still youthful exuberance -- at 22 he is playing at his first World Cup -- make the Pumas a handful for anyone, and the ‘rookie’ is happy to watch and learn.
“Marcus Ayerza... He’s number one in the scrum -- he’s a very important player for us. Agustin our captain, he’s at a great level now. He’s going to be one of the best players at the World Cup.”
Argentina, of course, are not just about rampaging forwards and coach Daniel Hourcade’s penchant for open rugby means talented flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez can come into his own.
“When we gain penalties, Nicolas is going to give us points. He also loves to play with the ball -- from anywhere on the field. He doesn’t just kick it out. He’s a player teams need to be wary of,” Matera said.
“He has learned a lot from Juan Martin Hernandez. Having them together as centre and flyhalf is really interesting. It makes us dangerous in attack.”
Matera is well used to English conditions having had a stint with Leicester Tigers before. Despite being in demand from Europe’s top clubs, he was lured home to be part of Argentina’s new Super Rugby franchise that will compete in the southern hemisphere’s club competition from next year.
Representing his country at a World Cup is hard to beat but becoming part of a new chapter of professional rugby in his homeland is not far behind.
“To have a professional side in our country is fantastic,” he said.
“It’s a new experience for everyone in Argentina. No one knows how it is going to work. But we are really happy that this is happening.”
Reporting by Justin Palmer, editing by Alan Baldwin