Argentina has ample experience in hosting international age-grade tournaments. The hosts of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 have seen the future starts of world rugby up close in 1997 (U19) and 2005 (U21) before age-grade rugby was unified under the U20 category. In 2010 the Junior World Championship was held in the same region as the one that will host 12 nations come June.

Rosario and Santa Fe will host the 30 games in a tournament that will have Argentina as the biggest attraction.

“Playing at home is great, undoubtedly a big bonus,” says Pumita coach José Pellicena. “We’d be wrong to put pressure on the players because they are playing in our country.”

In his second season as coach of that U20s, and having previously worked with Los Pumas and Jaguares, he knows that playing in front of friends and family will be unforgettable, yet the final goal is clear.

“We don’t aim to be world champions. Los Pumitas are part of a formative pathway to generate qualified players for Los Pumas. That players that were in France earlier this year have already played for Argentina XV and Los Pumas is a good message.”

Mayco Vivas, Lucio Sordoni, Santiago Grondona and Santiago Carreras, who played in France in June, made their debuts for the senior national side in the November window.

Having finished a short training camp, the last of the year, with 44 players in La Plata, hopeful players will continue training at their high performance centres. In the build-up to the Championship, Los Pumitas will play in an international tournament in South Africa, playing under similar conditions to those they will experience in June when they play against Wales on Wednesday 4, Fiji on Saturday 8 before they will play defending champions France on Wednesday 12.

Places available

The squad is far from settled as they are constantly in the lookout for players.

“In the process we’ve so far worked with 150 players in different camps and prior to that there had been other filters. We will continue on the lookout for players that have not come through the system.”

Going back on to the team’s goals, Pellicena is clear. “Of course, we want to win and we train for that, but the ultimate goal is to generate players for the future.”

“It is important that the boys don’t feel that playing at home is an added pressure; they must enjoy being at home close to loved ones. It has to be an energy boost.”

Pellicena works with Enrique Pichot, who runs backs and attack, and former test hooker Ricardo Le Fort, who is in charge of possession and forwards, and is clear about how structures operate.

“This U20 team is not only about these coaches, as we have great support and work with the high performance centres of the Argentine Rugby Union.

“I am convinced that if we continue working the way we are doing, with good standard competition, this team will provide a big input to Los Pumas. I wake up every morning for this!”

Photo: UAR/Martín Seras Lima