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Veterans predict bright future for Argentina

Updated: October 09, 2011, 21:02

AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Argentina's veterans are predicting a bright future for the nation's rugby team after the Pumas join an expanded Tri-Nations competition next year.

The 2007 semifinalists went out of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday, losing 33-10 to New Zealand in the quarterfinals, but showed encouraging signs by matching the All Blacks in the scrum for long periods of the first half.

While the 38-year-old hooker Mario Ledesma will never play for his country again, and 34-year-old center Felipe Contepomi is nearing the end of his career, they are confident the next generation will surpass their achievements.

Argentina will play annually against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia when the Tri-Nations expands next year, and Contepomi says "that will be very positive.''

Contepomi needs only three more points to break former flyhalf Hugo Porta's national scoring record of 590 points, and he will be needed to help oversee the transition period with the likes of Ledesma stepping down.

After 13 years of international rugby, 34-year-old prop Rodrigo Roncero is also nearing the end of his career.

Although Ledesma has worn the national jersey for the last time, he says the foundations have been laid down for the next generation to take Argentina forward, having reached at least the quarterfinals in consecutive World Cups.

"There were a few left from the 2007 team who are fairly old now. We've lasted up until now and we're quite proud of what we've done,'' Ledesma said. "We wanted to build this team and instill values on the field, as we think that it's very important to properly represent the Argentine flag.''

"The leaders who are staying behind know the work that's still to be done. It's a hard task but they largely have the capacity to do it,'' he continued. "When you see the likes of (lock) Patricio Albacete and (backrower) Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, they are much more talented players than us, and among the best in the world.''

Coach Santiago Phelan expects the expanded, yet-to-be-named four team southern hemisphere competition, to be a tough one for his team, but thinks the squad will improve their physicality by coming up against the Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks on a more regular basis.

"To play against teams of this caliber will be very hard for Argentinean rugby,'' he said. "But the game will grow as a result of the contact.''

All Blacks coach Graham Henry was impressed with the way Argentina challenged his team in the forward skirmishes at Eden Park, even opening up a 7-6 lead at one stage before trailing off midway through the second half of Sunday's match.

Argentina's sudden lapse of intensity cost it against the All Blacks, and in the pool match when it conceded a late try when it was beaten by England.

Maintaining that intensity over 80 minutes will be an area Phelan's team will hope to improve on against their more assured southern hemisphere opponents.

"I think they will get better because they will be playing against quality squads week in and week out,'' Henry said. "As New Zealanders, we are looking forward to being involved in that and I think it will be great for us and great for Argentinean rugby.''

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