TOKYO (Reuters) - Argentina’s once-feared scrum may not be as strong as it once was but England, their next Rugby World Cup opponents, are not taking that part of their game lightly, especially because the Pumas are coached by former world-class hooker Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma has made fixing problems up front a World Cup priority ever since Argentina conceded three tries from scrums in a 28-17 loss to Ireland in Dublin last November.
Argentina also struggled in the scrums during the Rugby Championship but have since looked more solid, winning six of seven on their own put-ins in their World Cup opener against France.
“They have improved dramatically from their form in the Rugby Championship to where they are now,” England scrum coach Neal Hatley said in Tokyo on Monday.
Hatley also thinks Argentina’s scrum is looking closer to their best under Ledesma, who worked under Australian coach Michael Cheika at the 2015 World Cup.
“I thought he did a brilliant job with the Australian scrum when he was there,” Hatley said.
“He comes from that era at World Cup 2007 where they probably had their best finish with their traditional strength in the forward play, the scrum, and that is where they get a lot of their power from. So, it is no surprise at all.
“They caused France quite a few problems in that game, so we are under no illusions of what to expect up front,” he said.
England’s own scrummaging capabilities could be improved by the possible return of prop Mako Vunipola.
Vunipola, who has 54 caps for England, has been out with a hamstring injury he picked up against Ireland on Aug. 25. Ellis Genge and Joe Marler have impressed in England’s opening two victories at the Rugby World Cup in Vunipola’s absence.
It means that Vunipola, who is among the world’s best loosehead props on his day, has a battle on his hands to win back his starting place.
“He needs to be the best version of himself,” Hatley said.
“We know what Mako is capable of, he is a 50-plus cap international, we know what he brings from a ball-carrying point of view, defensively the impact he has on the team, but Joe and Ellis have been going exceptionally well.
“That is what we want. We want that competition within the team to create pressure, work harder and to do more,” he said.
“What we produce on the weekend will be a product of what we do in the week, so Mako is going to have to work hard this week in training,” he said.
England face Argentina in Tokyo on Saturday.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Paul Tait