The East Terrace
A plan that backfired?
The East Terrace
August 24, 2012
Are Argentina regretting taking their place in the Rugby Championship? © Getty Images
Rugby history was made last weekend when Argentina joined Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in The Rugby Championship. Their entry, into what was previously known as the Tri-Nations, came in Cape Town, South Africa. Sadly, the Pumas were unable to mark the historic moment with a victory, instead they were comprehensively outclassed in a 27-6 defeat at the hands of the Springboks.
For many years Argentina was the only Tier One nation in world rugby without regular competitive rugby and the Argentinean Rugby Union fought a long, hard political campaign to get the South Americans installed in a major tournament. Over the years negotiations were opened with both the Tri-Nations and the Six Nations tournaments, but initially with little success. The case became something of a cause célèbre amongst those in rugby who wished to expand the game from its traditional power base.
Despite not having any regular competition the Pumas repeatedly took big scalps in world rugby and had several excellent World Cup campaigns, most notably in the 2007 World Cup in France.
Outside of World Cup years Argentina had to content themselves with summer and autumn tours, often finding themselves facing squads shorn of their stars and, as a result, never getting to test themselves on a consistent basis.
To the outside world, then, last Saturday's clash should have been a celebrated moment in the country's proud rugby history. Nobody in the rugby world could have expected, then, that the heavy defeat in their opening game may not have been purely because of rugby circumstances, but rather from a realisation from the Argentineans that they didn't want to be there at all.
"I know we spent years and years banging on about joining a major annual world event," said Pumas' captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. "But, honestly? We never thought anyone would actually listen and let us in. Most of us were happy kicking back and enjoying our summer a bit longer than other international players. Sure, we may have had the odd little tour, but that wasn't the same as being in a proper, straight-up tournament. There were always time for beers and fun."
The world class number eight, who has won 46 Test caps, opened up to the press just moments after emerging from the dressing room on Saturday.
"Sure, we complained to you guys all the time that we were being unfairly treated in not being included in the Tri or Six Nations. And we always used to ramp up our complaints around the World Cup, as we had a worldwide media audience to play with. But we were just doing it for show, we get enough rugby with our domestic season and usual summer tours without actually having to play and prepare properly and stuff.
"Seriously, who wants to go to Wellington or Auckland during the New Zealand winter? I certainly don't. A lot of us play in France or Europe and we'd rather be hanging out on some European beach to be honest, checking out French girls. Nice going, Argentinean Rugby Union! Way to ruin our holidays."
Juan Martin Hernandez, one of the greatest players to represent Argentina in the professional age also admitted in the aftermath of the Springbok loss that he felt for the younger generation of his nation's players.
"Those are the guys who face the worst of it," said the fly-half. "I'm past thirty; I'll only have a few years of it. But those poor young guys: hanging around in frozen New Zealand or being bored out of your brain in a secure South African hotel complex for half the winter. It just isn't right."
Puma coach Santiago Phelan has also heavily criticised the involvement of his team in The Rugby Championship: "It's such a long way to travel. I mean, really…who needs it? We're not flying first class either, I can tell you. Also, how am I to motivate the guys in the next World Cup? We won't be able to use our traditional 'poor little us, the victims of world rugby' speech anymore. We haven't got that chip on our shoulder now. Honestly, I don't know what we can do. In fact, I need a holiday, but instead I've got bloody rugby to prepare for."
However, it seems it isn't only the travel, weather and time commitment that has led to a collapse in morale within the Puma camp.
One player, who wished to remain anonymous, offered another reason for the decline in spirits: "It's the tournament name. I mean, really, The Rugby Championship? I'm ****** embarrassed to be associated with that kind of marketing, to be honest. Please, let's all get banned for violent conduct or performance enhancing drugs or something. Whatever happens, it's less embarrassing than being in a tournament called The Rugby Championship. What genius came up with that?"
As of press time the Argentinean Rugby Union were hiring lawyers in a frantic attempt to see if there was any get out clause to allow them to back out of the tournament from 2013.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
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