Pumas' rapid rise inspired by Yorkshire guile

Former England fly-half Les Cusworth is one of the driving forces behind Argentina's arrival on the world stage. Simon Turnbull reports from Paris
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The Independent Online

Les Cusworth has been this way before. Back in 1993, the long-time Leicester fly-half went all of the way on the World Cup glory trail. He was coach of the England team that won the inaugural Rugby World Cup Sevens – with youngsters by the name of Dallaglio and Dawson in their ranks, and with Andrew Harriman giving David Campese and the Wallabies the run-around in the final at Murrayfield.

Tomorrow night, in the Stade de France, the latest Cusworth World Cup bandwagon – this time the 15-manned variety – seeks to gain serious momentum at the quarter-final stage. For seven years now, the former England No 10 has been the number three in the back-room team that has driven Argentina up to fourth place in the world rankings.

For much of that time, while the Pumas coach, Marcelo Loffreda (Leicester-bound after the World Cup), and his assistant, Daniel Baetti, have been busy holding down their day jobs, Cusworth has performed much of the "professional" groundwork, such as the video dissection of opposition teams, albeit in the honorary role of technical advisor.

More recently, the 53-year-old Yorkshireman has assumed the title of director of rugby, and for the past five weeks he has been busy helping to direct the Pumas on their World Cup odyssey: through the dreaded Group D to tomorrow's quarter-final date with destiny and the Scots.

Cusworth has been an adopted Argentine since the turn of the millennium, living with his Argentine wife and their daughter in Hurlingham, a Buenos Aires province that took its identity and its favoured sport from the London polo club of the same name.

Not that sporting passions are exactly conforming to type back in Argentina, where tomorrow's Buenos Aires football derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate – El Superclasico – has been brought forward two hours so that the nation can follow the fortunes of Agustin Pichot, Juan Martin Hernandez and Co.

"We've got a base of players that other countries would die for," Cusworth says. "Marcelo Loffreda has developed this side over the last six or seven years and we go into Sunday well prepared, giving our players every chance.

"This is a journey for them – for the players. Whatever the result, they will have enjoyed the experience. They have real pride in playing for Argentina. In 40 years of being involved in rugby, I have seen nothing like it."

And in 20 years of World Cup rugby there has been nothing quite like the Argentina success story of 2007: a serious challenge for the trophy from a national team semi-detached from its homeland. There are some 400 Argentines playing professional rugby in Europe. There are none in Argentina. The game there remains 100 per cent amateur.

Cusworth's long-term ambition is for Argentina's European-based professionals to represent their country in a two-tiered expansion of what is at present the Six Nations Championship. More immediately, however, his aim for his adopted country is to make it to the last four of the World Cup.

And to do that Los Pumas would have to achieve something that their English director failed to manage in his 12-cap, nine-year international playing career.