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Ledesma-led Argentina looks to end Australian losing streak

September 12, 2018
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FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, then Argentine rugby player Mario Ledesma stretches during a training session in Wellington, New Zealand. Super Rugby's Jaguares, led by Ledesma, stocked almost exclusively with players from Argentina's national team, had big success in Australia this season. Now the Pumas will attempt to do the same when they play the Wallabies on Saturday in a Rugby Championship match on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane and end a 35-year losing streak.(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Super Rugby’s Jaguares, stocked almost exclusively with players from Argentina’s national team, had big success in Australia this season.

Now the Pumas will attempt to do the same when they play the Wallabies on Saturday in a Rugby Championship match on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane and end a 35-year losing streak.

The Pumas and Wallabies first met in a test match in 1983, and Argentina won 18-3 in Brisbane. But the visitors lost 29-13 in Sydney the following week and the national side hasn’t won in Australia since.

The Pumas, like the Wallabies with a 1-2 record so far in the tournament, have the best chance to end the drought when former Wallabies scrum coach Mario Ledesma, who coached the Jaguares this season, leads Argentina into Saturday’s match.

Ledesma, who played 84 tests for Argentina over 16 years, was announced as the new Argentina coach in August, replacing Daniel Hourcade. Gonzalo Quesada will coach the Jaguares in the 2019 Super Rugby competition.

The Ledesma-coached Jaguares beat the Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies in their away matches this season while also beating the New South Wales Waratahs in Buenos Aires to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

The only match they dropped against Australian opposition was to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

Every member of the starting Pumas team that lost 46-24 to New Zealand last weekend, and six of the seven players who came off the bench, played for the Jaguares this Super Rugby season.

“There’s probably a lot of similarities to the way we like to play,” Australia utility back Dane Haylett-Petty said of the Michael Cheika-coached Wallabies. “Mario’s probably taken quite a few things that he’s learned from Cheik and taken them back there. I think something that helps them is probably playing all year together.”

“They’ve played pretty much 15 games together through Super Rugby and now carried on some good form into test footy. They’re a very good team that’s come a long way in a short space of time.”

Wallabies assistant Stephen Larkham took a tongue-in-cheek swipe at Ledesma, who is a good friend.

“He struggled as an assistant coach. I don’t know what he’s going to come up with this weekend,” Larkham said, smiling. “I expect a fair bit of scrummaging. That’s what he’s good at.”

Larkham said the Wallabies, who lost twice to the All Blacks before beating South Africa 23-18 last weekend in Brisbane, hoped to have 63-test fullback Israel Folau (ankle) and flanker David Pocock (neck) back for Saturday’s match.

Argentina split home-and-away matches against the Springboks before last weekend’s loss to New Zealand.

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