September 12, 2019 / 6:43 AM / 2 months ago

Pumas coach Ledesma owes debt to Australia's Cheika

(Reuters) - Argentina coach Mario Ledesma, a member of the Pumas’ best generation of players, owes his career as a trainer to theclinical eye of his Australia counterpart Michael Cheika.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby Championship - Argentina v New Zealand - Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina - July 20, 2019 Argentina coach Mario Ledesma REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Ledesma was about to return home to Argentina after ending his playing career at Clermont, not sure what he would do next but certainly not interested in coaching, when he got a phone call from Cheika asking him to join him at Stade Francais where he was about to take charge as Director of Rugby in 2010.

“He had never met me but he liked Argentines and believed, having seen me play and how I behaved on the pitch that I had what it took to be a trainer,” Ledesma told Reuters in an interview.

“I said to him: ‘I’ve never thought about coaching and I don’t really feel like it, I want to go back to my country’.

“But he said, ‘Take a flight, I’ll pay for it, and come to Paris, we’ll have a coffee and talk,’ and my wife said, ‘Why don’t you go? If you’re going to take a decision you have to have all the cards in hand,’ and when I was on the plane I had already half decided.

“Then when I met and talked with him I found he was a spectacular guy and I said to myself, ‘OK, let’s go, give it a try’.”

Ledesma said he quit when Cheika was sacked by Stade Francais in 2012, impressing the Australian with his loyalty.

“I resigned and no longer had a job because I thought it was the right thing to do, he had taken me there,” said the 46-year-old, a key player in Agustin Pichot’s Pumas side who were World Cup bronze medal winners in 2007 after beating hosts France.

This cemented a great relationship which eventually led to Ledesma following Cheika to Australia as scrum guru for the Waratahs and later the Wallabies.

“The great shop window (for me) was the 2015 World Cup, we (Australia) played England and beat them well, they gave away seven penalties in the scrum, we killed them there,” he said.

Ledesma has the same kind of loyalty to Argentine rugby and just as he improved Australia’s scrummaging, he has faith in being able to return the Pumas to their former dominance in the scrum.

His Argentina team may be on a run of nine test defeats going into the World Cup but he sees massive progress in a relatively small but growing core of professionals now playing in the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby and Rugby Championship.

The 46-year-old, who is going to a sixth consecutive World Cup, four as a player and his second as a coach, said each match against the top sides was part of a continuum that shows Argentina are on the right track.

They face England, France, the United States and Tonga in Pool C at the World Cup in Japan which starts on Sept. 20.

Ledesma has now had two years in charge of this generation of Pumas players, first as Jaguares coach, and he has shown in the make-up of his World Cup squad, which includes only three exiles, where his faith in the future of Argentine rugby lies.

Reporting by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris

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