GOLD COAST - Argentina coach Mario Ledesma says six players barred from their clash on Saturday against the Wallabies after breaking coronavirus regulations will be dealt with once the Rugby Championship ends, adding: "The rules were clear."
Former captain Pablo Matera and regular first-team prop Santiago Medrano are among a group stranded in Australia's New South Wales state after crossing the border from Queensland for an unauthorised trip to a health retreat.
Under Covid-19 rules, anyone entering Queensland from a designated Covid hotspot area, like neighbouring New South Wales, must have permission or face mandatory quarantine.
They were prevented from returning to their Gold Coast base and governing body Sanzaar said they would be ineligible to play anyway given they "breached tournament rules".
Ledesma was reluctant to publicly condemn the six players and two staff members, but said everyone knew the rules.
"We will talk about that when the tournament is finished. Now it's time for rugby," he said on a zoom call.
"The rules were clear for everybody. It was a day off, they made that decision and the situation is what it is."
Sebastian Cancelliere, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Felipe Ezcurra, and Santiago Socino were the other players involved.
Argentina have lost all five of their tournament games so far and Ledesma insisted their focus was entirely on trying to beat hosts Australia before they return home after a long and gruelling tour.
"What I can tell you is that we put our minds into the solution, not the problem," he said when asked what he felt after learning the players were stuck in New South Wales.
"We started thinking 'who's going to replace this player or that player? How are we going to prepare the boys to have the best game that they can and close the Rugby Championship like they deserve?'
"Our mind was put immediately into the focus on rugby and to prepare as best as possible."
Ledesma has drafted in Enrique Pieretto to replace Medrano and Rodrigo Bruni for Matera among five changes to the run-on side.
- Emotion -
Skipper Julian Montoya echoed his coach in saying they were only focused on ending a disappointing tournament on a high.
"We don't have excuses. We don't have shortcuts. We don't believe in that," he said.
"We are training so hard in this Rugby Championship for so long, so I think we deserve to have the game that we want to have."
The Wallabies head into the game chasing their fourth win in a row on the back of beating Los Pumas 27-8 last weekend in Townsville.
But captain Michael Hooper remains wary of an Argentinian team he says will be "full of emotion" after their disrupted week.
"We know that Argentina will bounce back. There's a little bit going on there, so full of emotion and they are going to want to improve on their last game for sure," he said.
"Not sure how it's (missing players) going to impact their team. I guess we were as surprised as anyone, but we had to knuckle back down and get on with our stuff.
"That's been a focus of our team now for a long time now, seeing what we can control. We know we can go up a level."