After claiming the silver medal in Guadalajara in 2011 and in Toronto four years ago, Argentina will be hoping to go one better and win gold when the third rugby sevens tournament to be played at the Pan American Games gets underway in Lima on 26 July.
Experienced Los Pumas Sevens coach Santiago Gómez Cora wasn't involved in the inaugural tournament, but was in charge in 2015 when Canada once again denied them the top place on the podium.
“Truth is I saw nothing of the Games in 2011, I was on a rugby sabbatical,” he said.
“Toronto 2015 was a good tournament for us. We were the better team but failed to show that in the final. There were things that took our focus away and our preparation was not ideal.”
As was the case this year, the Games were preceded by an Olympic qualifying tournament.
“Our big change was that the whole season we aimed to peak at this time,” explained Gómez Cora, the former all-time leading try-scorer on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We fell one position in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table, to ninth, but we were aware of this and still think we had a good season. We wanted to be at our best to qualify to Tokyo 2020, and we did that.
"Players have been rotated, all playing a similar amount of minutes throughout the season. We achieved our first goal, now gold in the Pan-Am Games is the next goal.”
Warm weather training
Preparation has taken them again to Mangaritaba, a seaside resort in the gorgeous Angra dos Reis region, south of Río de Janeiro, their base ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.
“In 2015 we stayed in Buenos Aires and it was freezing and it rained for a week. This time, as in 2016, we trained very hard in perfect weather,” added Gómez Cora.
This will be Gómez Cora’s third multi-sport event and he recognises it has a different feel to a straight rugby sevens tournament. To guard against any unwanted distractions, Argentina will not attend the opening ceremony as the rugby tournament follows shortly after.
“At this level, there are details that can affect your focus and concentration. It is more than playing well – it is representing your country.
“Participating in these types of Games is quite new for rugby, but it raises the game’s profile. They are tournaments that alter the monotony of the circuit.
“Our sevens programme is financed by the Ente Nacional de Alto Rendimiento Deportiva (High-Performance National Agency), Agencia de Deportes (National Sports Agency) and the Unión Argentina de Rugby. It is important to have medals. Which is why our goal is 100 per cent on winning gold.”
Closing in on two decades of involvement with sevens and more than 100 tournaments as both player and coach, Gómez Cora is aware that the Canada match in pool play could be pivotal to the eventual outcome. Jamaica and Uruguay provide the other opposition in Pool B, while USA, Brazil, Chile and Guyana will make up Pool A.
“Winning your pool helps you on the final day. We lost against Canada the last time we met at Twickenham, but overall this year we beat them more times than we lost. That last game will help us to not fall into the same mistakes. We had a lot of possession but failed to turn that into points.”