Rugby
Tom Hamilton, ESPN UK Reporter 13d

'It will be the full 15 players attacking England' - Juan Martin Ferndandez Lobbe

Rugby

Argentina will attack from anywhere and everywhere on Saturday at Twickenham. Gone are the days where the set piece was the focus and everything else followed. Now England can expect an all-court, bombardment from the Pumas.

That's the view from one of their finest ever back-rowers who will be sat in the stands come Saturday afternoon. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is in his final season as a rugby player; the body is aching that little bit more.

He used to be agitated when watching Argentina, feeling isolated, out of place as his closest friends put body on line for Los Pumas. But now it is all winding down for the man who played 71 times for Argentina. "I am at peace now... I have had a wonderful career," he tells ESPN.

But while Lobbe is in the twilight of his playing days -- judging by his form for Toulon, he could continue for another 30 seasons and still cause breakdown carnage -- he feels this chapter of Argentina are just getting started. He was part of that famous 2007 side, the one that won bronze in the World Cup playing delightful wing-to-wing rugby.

He was there in 2015 when they reached the semifinals having eased past Ireland in the final eight. His name is aligned with Argentina's finest moments on the field, but he is overflowing with positivity around this current crop, feeling they are embarking on their own journey, away from the shadows of their illustrious predecessors.

Much of the talk in the run up to Saturday's game has been around the set piece, but Lobbe is telling England to expect a different beast.

"The Pumas have a high tempo attack," Lobbe says. "They try to play a lot with ball in hand, keep the ball alive.

"So that means more offloads sometimes, they're working on the rucks to get quick ball. You're going to see that in attack, they've been working a lot on defence on putting in pressure while keeping that mentality, our old trademark of being courageous and not giving up. We're not trying to rely on the set piece as much as we have done, but we need that platform.

"I wouldn't put them into a box... they are not 'just big forwards', or 'they just have a kicking game', but they are trying to develop 1-15 rugby. Sometimes the offloads stick, sometimes not, but that's the idea."

That platform, the foundations of Argentina are a work in progress.

Their Super Rugby side -- the Jaguares -- are only three years old, the Pumas have only been playing in the Rugby Championship since 2012. It is a gradual process and Lobbe feels Argentina are completely correct to only select players who are playing rugby on home-turf, running a similar selection process to New Zealand.

It is what he terms "the small steps" needed to turn Argentina into a team worthy of been in the top quartet able to win a World Cup. The Rugby Championship has been a tough road for Argentina; this year's tournament was underwhelming, as they lost all six of their games. But Lobbe sees no need to panic. Is the era of the Pumas over? No, far from it. It is only just beginning.

"With [the Jaguares in] Super Rugby, it's now gone from hard to extra, extra hard for the Pumas. We have the same players playing at the top level for the whole year with not a lot of rest. It just wears you down. We are still trying to adapt to that.

"The Championship brings you the stress of being on the edge for every single game... it's not easy to manage the whole time. That's what they're learning... the mental edge, trying to get better and getting the composure. The process is about getting there. The young guys are learning now, they are playing against the top teams in the world."

Lobbe recalls how different they felt before their encounters with the big three from the southern hemisphere in 2007 and 2015. When they played South Africa in the 2007 semifinals it was all new, but then with their introduction to the Championship, it was familiar in 2015 when they played New Zealand and Australia. It is a process which will see the Pumas develop year-on-year and the likes of Pablo Matera and Emiliano Boffelli will benefit from it.

Lobbe earmarks them as two players to watch on Saturday and hopes they will take inspiration from the 2006 smash and grab on Twickenham when Federico Todeschini's try helped Argentina to a famous 25-18 win over England. Celebrations were kept to a minimum that night, it was the feeling that they were just getting going and so it proved a year later when Agustin Pichot's side won hearts and minds with their 2007 performance.

That and the 2015 World Cup are two of Lobbe's career highlights but he is focused on finishing his time with Toulon on a high. After a hugely successful three-season spell with Sale Sharks, he is well versed in English domestic rugby and he has loved the Anglo influence on Toulon during his time there.

Chris Ashton is currently storming down Toulon's wing -- "he has that special edge, he loves scoring tries, loves contributing to the team" -- and he enjoyed working with Richard Cockerill last year, saying: "He loves hard work and we saw the results we got."

And then there was Jonny Wilkinson. "He was amazing. Everyone knows about his rugby ability, but he's such an amazing human being. I am so glad to be able to call him my friend."

There are no regrets for Lobbe, none of those lingering 'what ifs'. He holds close to him the memories of 2006, the 2007 World Cup and the 2015 edition, where his family joined him on the pitch after every game. He is now a proud supporter of Argentina and will watch on with fondness as they continue to develop, starting with, as he hopes, victory on Saturday.

"We only started six years ago, really," Lobbe says. "Sometimes it hurts but you have to go over that road if you want to be successful.

"I hope for a win, get a good performance and mentally it will be much better to get into 2019 with one win to our name, rather than 4-0. We need a good, solid game. They just try and make things better every day -- so maybe it's the kicking game one day, or another area. It will be the full 15 players attacking England."

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