Ledesma surprised by rapid Pumas promotion

Mario Ledesma (Gallo Images)
Mario Ledesma (Gallo Images)

Buenos Aires - Rugged former hooker Mario Ledesma admitted his surprise on Wednesday at his rapid elevation to coach of the Argentina national team.

The 45-year-old only took over the reins at Argentina's Super Rugby franchise Jaguares six months ago but after guiding them to a quarter-final berth he was given a four-year deal to handle the Pumas.

"Being the captain of the ship fills me with pride. I'm not intimidated by the pressure," said Ledesma, who won 84 caps as a player, helping the Pumas to third place at the 2007 World Cup in France.

After his playing career came to an end following a decade in France, Ledesma took on coaching roles both in France and Australia, before moving home in January.

"I went to Australia as a spy, just in case I would come back to coach in Argentina," said Ledesma who takes over from Daniel Hourcade.

"I didn't think I would come back so soon. I'd always dreamed of coaching the Pumas."

Ledesma worked at the Waratahs under Michael Cheika, who then hired him as forwards coach with Australia, a role the Argentine occupied previously at both Stade Francais (again under Cheika) and Montpellier in the French Top 14.

Six months ago when Ledesma was named Jaguares coach, few expected the Argentine franchise to reach the Super Rugby knock-out stages in only their third season.

But they recorded their first winning regular season and qualified to face the Lions.

Although they lost 40-23, the Jaguares had already impressed with away victories in New Zealand - against the Chiefs and Blues - and Australia - at the Rebels and Brumbies.

Yet despite fielding a side made up almost entirely of Jaguares players - due to rules against the use of foreign-based ones - Argentina flopped to a pair of convincing home defeats to Wales before they were thumped by the visiting Scotland team.

"We need to improve as a team. It's defence that wins you games," said Ledesma, whose new charges conceded 10 tries and almost 100 points in their three June Tests.

"When we're on top we're dangerous and we score, but when we're under the cosh we concede too many points."

Hourcade resigned after that June debacle and a miserable series of defeats since the Pumas' impressive run to the 2015 World Cup semi-finals.

Argentina have slumped to 10th in the World Rugby rankings and barring a victory in Italy last November, it's almost two years since they last beat a tier one nation.

"The Pumas have lost their identity, Ledesma and (assistant Nicolas) Fernandez Miranda will bring it back, with the tackle as a symbol, scrummaging, pressure and attack," said Rau Sanz, Argentina's manager at the 2007 World Cup.

Sanz said the team needs to "defend as you'd defend your mother if she was the victim of an attack."

Ledesma was something of a late bloomer as a player, only making his professional debut at the age of 27 with Narbonne, in France.

After a spell at Castres he really made his mark with Clermont, helping them win the European Challenge Cup in 2007 and the French Top 14 in 2010.

SEE: Rugby Champions fixtures

His debut on the Argentina bench will be in the Rugby Championship on August 18 as the Pumas begin with a trip to improving South Africa.

While the Argentine federation said it would continue with its policy of selecting only players operating in southern hemisphere club rugby, they will now make exceptions in the front row.

Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
42% - 7815 votes
11% - 1968 votes
19% - 3574 votes
3% - 464 votes
1% - 171 votes
2% - 441 votes
5% - 915 votes
8% - 1543 votes
3% - 614 votes
Water sports
1% - 168 votes
American sports
1% - 217 votes
3% - 571 votes