Culture

Argentina Joins The Rugby Championship as Tri-Nations Become Four

 

 

This year Los Pumas, Argentina’s celebrated national rugby team, will end one chapter of their history and begin an exciting new one.

Their gruelling quest for international recognition as a true rugby power will finally be completed in Cape Town on August 18 when the Argentinian rugby team takes on South Africa’s Springboks in this year’s edition of The Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere’s elite annual tournament. A week later, on August 25, history will be made again as Argentina play their first home game of the competition in Mendoza.

Argentina v New Zealand Rugby World Cup 2011
Argentina vs New Zealand at Rugby World Cup 2011; photo courtesy of jeanfrancois beausejour.

While Los Pumas have long been regarded as a competitive international outfit, the team existed in a kind of limbo when it came to tournament rugby outside of the World Cup. The European sides were able to batter each other every year in the Six Nations, while Australia, South Africa and New Zealand crunched bodies annually in the Tri-Nations. Argentinian rugby players, however, were left languishing on the sidelines; forced to be content with playing Test matches here and there without any ultimate prize to aim for.

Playing with the Big Kids

The big kids were always hesitant to let Argentina play with them due to a number of factors. ‘The distances involved are vast,’ they would say, or, ‘we would have to change the name of the competition if someone else joins!’ Actually that second one might not be true, but financial and logistical issues played a huge part. While the rest of the world embraced professionalism in 1995, Argentinian rugby chose to continue to honour the game’s amateur roots. The downside of this was that as the game made rapid developments elsewhere, Argentina lagged behind. However, with more and more ‘rugbiers’ (as they are called in Argentina) moving to wealthy European clubs to ply their trade, the gap closed considerably.

When Los Pumas, led by captain Agustín Pichot in his last tournament before retirement, stunned everybody to finish third at the 2007 World Cup, it was a massive boost for the nation’s rugby. Momentum began to build for inclusion in a major competition, in no small part due to the tireless campaigning of Pichot himself. Finally, all of Argentinian rugby got what it wanted when SANZAR, the governing body of the Tri-Nations agreed to assimilate the South Americans, starting in 2012.

Argentina v New Zealand Rugby World Cup 2011
Argentina vs New Zealand at Rugby World Cup 2011; photo courtesy of jeanfrancois beausejour.

The Tri-Nations becomes The Rugby Championship and Los Pumas face the thrilling, yet daunting prospect of going head to head with the game’s three superpowers on a regular basis. The tournament is short and simple. It involves the four sides playing each other twice each, home and away. Four points are awarded for a win, two for a draw and zero for a loss. Bonus points can be gained by scoring four tries or more in a single match, and/or losing by seven points or less. At the end of the round robin, whichever team has the highest points total is declared the winner.

The Best of Argentina’s Rugby Talent

So how are Los Pumas likely to handle such consistently tough competition? Fortunately, they are a strong side. Currently ranked 8th in the world, they are rebuilding after losing the bulk of a great generation of players through retirements after the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Veteran flanker Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe will captain the team in the absence of Felipe Contempomi and is sure to lead from the front in his tough-as-nails fashion. You would not want to run into any of Argentina’s forward pack in a dark alley, really, and the likes of Patricio Albacete and Rodrigo Roncero will ensure they won’t be physically intimidated. The star of the backline is Juan Martin Hernandez, whose career has been interrupted by injuries in the last couple of seasons, but is one of the most talented and versatile backs in the world when fully fit.

Aside from a healthy dose of Latin flair, Argentinian rugby players are best known for the deep-rooted passion with which they play the game. The New Zealand All Blacks may scare the daylights out of people with their pre-game haka, but plenty of opponents must be taken aback to see a bunch of refrigerator-sized Argentinian men bawling their eyes out as they sing their national anthem. It is that sort of commitment which often gives the team an edge against teams who in theory should be superior to them.

The task for Argentina will be extremely challenging, though, especially in the first year or two as they adapt to The Rugby Championship. New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are ranked number one, two and three in the world respectively and between them they have won six out of the seven World Cups contested.

The competition formerly known as the Tri-Nations produces the fastest, most intense rugby in the world. Every match has the quality of a World Cup semi-final. There is no place to hide. The skills are as dazzling as the hits are brutal.

Argentina will have to be playing at the peak of their game from day one to avoid the risk of being overwhelmed. One thing is for sure, there will be grit, pride and passion aplenty whenever Los Pumas take the field. The big boys better watch their backs.

Fixture List for the 2012 Rugby Championship

18 August 2012
Australia vs New Zealand at ANZ Stadium, Sydney
South Africa vs ArgentinaDHL Newlands, Cape Town

25 August 2012
New Zealand vs Australia at Eden Park, Auckland
Argentina vs South Africa – Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza

8 September 2012
Australia vs South Africa at Patersons Stadium, Perth
New Zealand vs Argentina at Westpac Stadium in Wellington

15 September 2012
Australia vs Argentina at Skilled Park, Gold Coast
New Zealand vs South Africa at Forsyth Barr in Dunedin

29 September 2012
South Africa vs Australia – Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Argentina vs New Zealand – Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata

6 October 2012
South Africa vs New Zealand – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
Argentina vs Australia – Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario

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Posted in: The Real Argentina Blog, The Real Argentina: Culture
Posted on: August 14, 2012
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Comments: 2 Comments

 
  • http://www.facebook.com/sivanjohn Sivan John

    Thanks for this great article Dan! Enjoy reading every part of it.

    I must say that I’m extremely excited about the historic match against the Springboks, as it will open a new era for Argentine rugby. I’m firmly believe that this is the next big step for Los Pumas to improve itself.

    The success in the last two Rugby World Cup is a true testament that the game has a future in this footballing mad country. Having more players moving abroad to play professional is one thing, the National Team certainly does need it’s fair share of exposure in the international stage.

    I’ve always been an advocate supporter that Los Pumas does belong among the Southern Hemisphere elites therefore they must play the (ex) Tri-Nations.

    Yes, they will or might get trashed by the All Blacks, Springboks & the Wallabies but results aside; one the players, the National Team, the Union & the game really needs is the exposure & experience of playing in a regular competitive environment. It’s the only way for everyone who is involved in the game in Argentina to progress and move forward.

    And I can only hope that Argentina success will be a good springboard for rugby to gain more momentum in South America, now that the 7 version is an Olympic sport and the next event is going to be in Rio four years time.

    VAMOS VAMOS LOS PUMAS!!!

  • http://www.therealargentina.com/ The Real Argentina

    Thanks for the comments, Sivan. It is indeed an exciting time for Argentina rugby. We can’t wait to support Los Pumas over the coming weeks!

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