Argentina reaching a Rugby World Cup semi-final for the second time on Sunday is testament to the huge strides the Pumas have made since joining the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship. Impressive in 2007 on the back of a more defensive game, Argentina have shown in this tournament a confidence to play to their skills in running with the ball which they had only occasionally hinted at on the international stage. “We have played in the Rugby Championship for the last four years and this has given us that pace to be used to playing at this level of intensity on a weekly basis,” coach Daniel Hourcade said after the Pumas’ 43-20 quarter-final victory over Ireland in Cardiff. Playing the best on a yearly basis requires preparation and perfection, that makes you get used to it, it becomes normal. For us the growth has been amazing since 2012 Daniel Hourcade, Argentina coach “I think we are ready [for the next game]. Playing the best on a yearly basis requires preparation and perfection, that makes you get used to it, it becomes normal,” he said. “For us the growth has been amazing since 2012.” Captain Agustin Creevy said Argentina still had a way to go to reach the standard of the southern hemisphere’s big three despite a first victory over South Africa in Durban in August following a home win over Australia last year. “We’re not at their level but we’re improving. We’ve still a long way but this team still has a lot to give,” the hooker said. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was impressed by Argentina, who will play Australia in the World Cup semi-final. “They physically hassle you when they don’t have the ball,” he said. “I think the higher level you play on a consistent basis the higher level you attain.” Hourcade was part of an influential trio including former Pumas captain Agustin Pichot and former New Zealand coach Graham Henry who campaigned to get Argentina included in the Rugby Championship. Henry, whose 2011 All Blacks won the last World Cup, was a consultant to former coach Santiago Phelan and advised him on how the Pumas should play to score more tries. Hourcade, an admirer of Australian rugby, has carried that premise further since taking charge two years ago by working on tactics to release the latent balls skills of his young players and stretch their attacking options across the full width of the pitch. Argentina have for a long time had the potential to play with the same Latin abandon as the traditional French flair but lacked the framework and confidence they have now gained in the Rugby Championship. Backs like Juan Imhoff, Santiago Cordero, Joaquin Tuculet and Nicolas Sanchez, as well as Juan Martin Hernandez before them, grew up in an amateur club structure that encourages running rugby even if much of the Pumas’ past success was essentially down to a good scrum. It needed the more progressive directors in Argentine rugby to overcome the abhorrence the old school had of professionalism and build a core of home-based players contracted to the UAR whose next challenge is to play as a franchise in Super Rugby. The bedrock, though, is a strong amateur game, with more than 480 clubs divided into 25 provincial unions the length and breadth of the country, players’ identification with their clubs where they start playing soon after learning to walk and a passion for the Pumas’ colours. That passion has been evident in Argentina’s travelling support and the rapport of the Pumas with their fans wherever they have played in England.