BUENOS AIRES, July 17 (Reuters) – The alarm bars rang loudly and clearly for Puma's coach Mario Ledesma when Argentina admitted three scrums trials in a 28-17 loss to Ireland in Dublin last November.
This was Argentina, where scrummaging was part of the rugby DNA, so Ledesma decided something to do and do quickly before this year's World Cup in Japan.
Ledesma, a world-class hooker in his day who took charge of Puma's last year after working as a scrum coach for Australia under Michael Cheika, turned to Eduardo Fernandez Gill.
Fernandez Gill, the Pumitas Four Under-20 World Cup coach, was named in March and the responsibility of leading a search for front-end talent was the length and breadth of the country.
"When Mario took charge of Pumas, he set out to restore what scrum means as a flag for Argentine rugby," Fernandez Gill told Reuters in an interview.
"We had taken such a big step backwards that when we played Ireland last year, the three trials we admitted came from scrums."
The plan was to get Argentine scrums to work as they did before a slate of serious back injuries triggered a 2016 ban on scrums from moving more than 1.5 meters.
The ban is gradually phased out this year, but the consequences still work through the system.
"We did not produce props as we should have done," said 61-year-old at his club Regatas de Buena Vista.
He said Ledesma would imitate the plan introduced 30 years ago by world champions New Zealand, which Argentina faces Saturday in their Rugby Championship opener.
"New Zealand started with Mike Cron, who worked through their training centers to the top as coach of all their scrums right up to the All Blacks," added Fernandez Gill.
"Then Mario would like to copy it to bring a person to the principles and importance of scrummaging in rugby and get back to what's our DNA."
Daniel Hourcade, Ledesma's predecessor as coach, did not give his Pumas scrum as much importance as developing a more open and attacking style.
It made Pumas one of the most attractive teams in the international game and helped them reach the semi-finals in the World Cup for the second time in 2015.
But repeating the feat in Japan without a very good scrum will be almost impossible, says Fernandez Gill, especially since Argentina faces the task of qualifying from a pool also with England and France.
Once upon a time, when the great European powers feared Argentina, it was their scrum.
Pumas earned their reputation as top scrummagers with their low gravity shove known as "la bajadita", as all eight forward, including the hooker, pushed together.
"At one time we made a very big difference to scrummaging," recalled Fernandez Gill.
"We exported props that were extraordinary ambassadors of Argentine rugby. (Other countries) were convinced that if they had Argentine props, they could have an Argentine scrum.
"(But) we didn't give scrum the importance it needed and what it would need in the upcoming world championship.
"So it's pure Mario who says we have to return to our source for the scrum that separates us from the world in the 1970s.
"What makes us different is that we are the only country in the world where the locks tie around on the side (of the props) instead of underneath, but we lose such techniques.
"The law now enforces bending the ball, but I think you can do exactly everything we used to do with the bajadita, hook the ball and keep the ball fast.
"For you to need a very disciplined and strong scrum that moves forward one meter. Today is one meter or one and a half meters in international rugby massive."
Australia's Scottish prop Scott Sio, who came through Wallabies under Ledesma, said it was only natural to go through good and bad spells in scrum.
"I think every team goes through (a dip)," Sio told Reuters after turning to Puma's front in a Super Rugby match for ACT Brumbies against Jaguares in Buenos Aires in April.
"Going forward, of course you will lose a lot of experience. They lost Marcos Ayerza, who has been one of the leading looseheads for a very long time, not just in Argentina, but the world.
"Going through a transitional phase as such is always tough, you have to get bloody young players and give them the experience."
Sio, who again had to meet Jaguares in June and came out on the wrong side of a heavy semi-final defeat, said having most of Pumas in the same Super Rugby team could only help.
"I think having spent the time here at Jaguares and in Pumas benefits from them," Australia added.
"I think they are pretty good at the World Cup, and I think they will unlock their combinations, came the Rugby Championship." (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)
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