Pumas' Ledesma condemns scrum rule change

Rex Gowar
Mario Ledesma barks out instructions to players in the scrum

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma says a rule introduced in Argentine rugby two years ago following a spate of serious injuries has emasculated their once-feared scrums and potentially weakened their World Cup challenge.

When San Isidro Club prop Jeronimo Bello was left severely disabled from a collapsed scrum in a Buenos Aires first division match in September 2016, the fourth serious injury in a year, the governing body of Argentine Rugby (UAR) took action.

The UAR ruled teams in Argentine domestic competitions would be penalised for pushing more than one and a half metres, except at five-metre scrums.

The rule change affected all top-flight domestic competitions, which are amateur in Argentina, from which the Pumas and the professional Jaguares Super Rugby franchise recruit players.

Ledesma, who took charge of Argentina before the southern hemisphere's mid-year Rugby Championship, said the Pumas' scrummaging culture had been severely impacted and it would take two years of hard work to recover the full power of Argentina's scrum.

The Pumas, however, have less than a year until the 2019 World Cup in Japan where Argentina share a pool with England, France, Tonga and the United States.

"More than to me in particular, (the rule) is detrimental to all Argentine rugby," said Ledesma, who will use his team's fourth European tour match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday to give his young forwards more experience against top opposition.

Ledesma said he understood why the measure was taken due to the injuries that had occurred, although he feels they had not suffered more than average in Argentina.

"I'd say that in Australia there are quite a few more (serious injuries) than in Argentina," added Ledesma, who spent two years working as an assistant to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

"Not only does it weaken Argentine scrummaging culture, which is part of our DNA, but it's also part of a forward's soul.

"Today scrums in Argentina last five or six seconds which is why the kids who come to us from their clubs are surprised by the hardness of a scrum and if it lasts more than 10 seconds it discomforts them in a manner of speaking.

"You have to be able to enjoy that kind of wrestling and (understand) the bearing it has on other areas of the game," said the 45-year-old former hooker.

"The cohesion you achieve in a team with a solid scrum and the psychological boost (you get) from that is immeasurable."

He singled out victories over South Africa and Australia in the Rugby Championship and last Saturday's 14-9 loss to Scotland, which Argentina could have won with better place kicking from the normally reliable Nicolas Sanchez.

"If we want to get past the Pool round at the World Cup we definitely have to have a good defence and that's what we're working on," he said.