Argentina coach Mario Ledesma may have one of the toughest jobs in international rugby, but he has not lost his sense of humour.
Ahead of the Rugby Championship return match against South Africa in western city Mendoza this Saturday, he was asked if it was possible to stop the Springboks.
“Maybe if they get sick or something,” joked the 45-year-old who this month succeeded Daniel Hourcade as coach of a team that has lost 23 of 29 Tests since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Argentina had exceeded expectations at the global showpiece in England, finishing fourth behind champions New Zealand, runners-up Australia and South Africa.
Hourcade resigned two months ago after a disastrous run of mid-year results at home, losing twice to Wales and once to Scotland, both of whom travelled without many stars.
Ledesma was a natural replacement having guided the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time this year in his maiden season as coach.
But hopes that he could instantly transform the Pumas into a winning team again were dashed by a 34-21 loss to South Africa in Durban last Saturday.
Argentina were clinical in the first half, building a 14-10 half-time lead, but the power of the Springboks told as the second half progressed.
“They are by far the most physical side in world rugby,” said former Pumas hooker Ledesma, who played and coached in France and coached in Australia before returning home.
“We must defend better in Mendoza,” he stressed, referring to some soft tries among the six conceded against South Africa in Durban.
Ledesma has not panicked despite a flattering scoreline last weekend with Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard missing five of seven kicks at goal.
In the only change to the starting line-up, Tomas Lavanini replaces Matias Alemanno at lock with the former dropping to a bench that includes three other alterations from Durban.
In come centre Jeronimo de la Fuente, scrum-half Tomas Cubelli and hooker Facundo Bosch to replace Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Martin Landajo and Diego Fortuny.
Winning with a bonus point enabled South Africa to share first place with title-holders New Zealand, who ran in six tries to overcome Australia 38-13 in Sydney.
Like Argentina, they have made one change, also at lock, with Franco Mostert taking the place of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is among the replacements.
South Africa has also reshuffled the bench, bringing in prop Wilco Louw and lock RG Snyman for Thomas du Toit and Marco van Staden.
Coach Rassie Erasmus, hired this year after two disastrous seasons under Allister Coetzee, expects the Pumas to target the scrums, mauls and breakdowns.
“They are going to raise the bar from last weekend and the Springboks have battled on two previous visits to Mendoza.”
South Africa were lucky to escape with a 16-16 draw in 2012 and equally fortunate to win 22-17 one year later at the 40,000-seat Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.
Also, while the Pumas have won only three of 34 Rugby Championship matches since debuting six years ago, two of those triumphs were against South Africa.
“The match in Durban was not the most beautiful to watch nor was our performance perfect,” admitted Erasmus.
“Winning is our primary goal, however, as we build toward the 2019 World Cup in Japan and I will settle for five more points from our match in Mendoza.”