A lot of people believe that the USA are the sleeping giants of world rugby… I respectfully disagree.
There are a lot of similarities to be drawn from Argentina’s inexplicable continued exclusion from World Rugby and what happens right at home.
Earlier this week news broke that SANZAR, the Southern Hemisphere alliance of South African, New Zealand and Australia, sent out a ‘conditional’ invitation to Argentina to join the SANZAR alliance in what will hope to be a new Four Nations tournament from 2012.
Of course this was greeted with much joy from rugby lovers all over the world not to mention the Argentine rugby union themselves.
My first thoughts were ‘FINALLY’, but then I got a thinking (which is a dangerous thing in itself) and I cannot help but come to the conclusion that one, it is actually a slap in the face of Argentine rugby to send them a ‘conditional’ invitation and secondly, beware of the sleeping giant…
Since noises were made in South Africa about the Spears (now Kings) and how SA Rugby is looking to include them in the Super rugby circles I was very happy and supported the initiative 1000%.
You see I was always of the view that our rugby is run like a monopoly, where 5 unions effectively run SA Rugby and call the shots (as a typical old boys club) where the other guys are left to suck on the hind tit and feed of scraps.
I have always opposed this for one very simple reason.
If we concentrate our rugby strengths and resources to a limited (minority) number of unions, we actually create a situation where we hurt the game of rugby in this country by not encouraging development and growth of the game on a national basis using ALL our resources available to us.
You see the guys in power do not want to share, because that will mean they will lose power and perhaps, even awaken a sleeping giant which in South Africa’s case, is the Spears or Kings. Power corrupts, absolute power…
But back to Argentina.
Just consider the following…
The first rugby union match in Argentina was played in 1873. In 1910 a side managed by Oxford University — supposedly the England national team but included three Scottish players — toured Argentina: the people of Argentina termed it the “Combined British”, also known as a “Great Britain XV”. Argentina made their international debut against this team (their first official test), losing 28-3 on 12 July in Buenos Aires.
In 1952, Argentina played an Ireland XV in a non-cap international held in Buenos Aires. Argentina lost the first Test by six points but raised the bar in the second meeting in Buenos Aires to draw 3-3. It wasn’t a win, but it was the first time Argentina had avoided defeat against a major European team and it was celebrated as a victory.
Back in the late 1960s the four home unions began tours to Argentina, and after Wales struggled in both Tests in Buenos Aires in 1967 it soon became clear that Argentina would be a difficult place to win a series. Scotland became their next victims when the Pumas won the first test in 1968. The Scots won the second test two weeks later, but it was close.
The first trip of the Argentina national rugby team to the other side of the Atlantic was to Rhodesia and South Africa in 1965. The team acquired the nickname “Pumas”, from a local journalist after their first tour match, a defeat to Salisbury. The book “Be Pumas” recalls the Wackley Farmer of Rhodesia magazine commenting on the emblem embroidered on the tourists’ jerseys was like a puma – rather than a jaguar. After defeats to Salisbury and Northern Transvaal, the first win came against Western Transvaal, another against South West Africa Country Districts and finally against the Southern Universities. The Pumas’ landmark win against the Junior Springboks, by 11-6. They were welcomed home to Buenos Aires by a huge crowd; the tour had harvested 11 victories, one draw and four defeats over two months.
Wales arrived in Buenos Aires in 1968 and for the first time in their history the Pumas were able to triumph in a series, winning the first match 9-5 and drawing the second 9-9. The first great decade in Argentine rugby came to a close with the arrival of Scotland in 1969. The first match saw a big Argentine victory 20-3, but in the second game the visitors narrowly won 6-3.
Through the 1970s, Argentina confirmed its steady rise towards top-tier status under the impulse of its first truly world-class player, fly-half Hugo Porta. During their European tour in 1976, the Pumas came tantalizingly close to a grandiose victory at Cardiff Arms Park over Wales, then the dominant force in the Northern Hemisphere. Only a Phil Bennett penalty on a foul by Gabrielo Travaglini at the death allowed the Welsh to escape with a 20-19 victory. Two years later Argentina returned for their 1978 European tour and held a virtually full-strength England XV to a 13-13 draw before beating Italy 19-6.
The early 1980s also saw the formation of the South American Jaguars, a team dominated by Argentine players, which played eight matches against the Springboks including one win at Bloemfontein in 1982.
From the late seventies to the early nineties, Argentina never lost the two matches of a series held in Buenos Aires, in a period that included victories against France, England, Australia and a 21-21 tie to the All Blacks, which is probably the most important result ever obtained by the Pumas, thanks to a terrific performance by Hugo Porta who scored all of Argentina’s points.
Perhaps the one of the Pumas’ best matches in recent years came on 23 May 2005 in Cardiff, when they played the British and Irish Lions in the Lions’ send-off match for their tour to New Zealand. The Pumas were forced to choose a side of second- and even third-choice players (prop Mauricio Reggiardo, later voted man of the match, came out of retirement for the game) as 25 players from their selection pool were unavailable due to club commitments. However, a Pumas performance widely hailed as inspired, combined with lacklustre play by a mostly second-choice Lions side, put Argentina on the verge of one of the greatest upsets in recent rugby history. It took a Jonny Wilkinson penalty at the death—and arguably the decision by Australian referee Stuart Dickinson to allow eight minutes of added time at the end of the match—for the Lions to salvage a 25-25 draw and avoid a humiliating defeat.
In the 2006 mid-year Tests, Argentina welcomed a Wales side for a two-Test tour. Los Pumas swept the series, marking their first Test series win over Wales. The first test, on June 11, was a closely-fought affair, won 27-25. It was historically significant as the first Argentina Test ever to be held in Patagonia. The visitors were welcomed very warmly, as the match was held in Puerto Madryn, one of the major towns in an area that was settled by Welsh in the 1860s and where Welsh is still frequently spoken. The second Test at Vélez Sársfield on June 17 saw the Pumas take a 45-13 lead before two late Welsh tries cut the final margin to 45-27. This did, however, mark Argentina’s largest win ever over Wales. Los Pumas next entertained the world’s top team, the All Blacks, at Vélez Sársfield the following week. The All Blacks won 25-19, but not until surviving an all-out Pumas assault on their try line in the final minutes.
During their World Cup run in 2007 where they claimed bronze ending 3rd overall – their best ever World Cup performance (by beating France twice), the normally football-crazed Argentines embraced the Pumas so much that El Superclásico, the Buenos Aires football derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate that is normally the biggest event in Argentine sport, was rescheduled so that it would not conflict with the Pumas’ quarter-final match. As the only major Spanish language country in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the Pumas also had considerable support from rugby fans in Spain, Uruguay, and other Latin American countries during their impressive five game winning streak.
Argentina claimed their highest world ranking ever following this, 3rd place.
Now fast forward to 2009, where SANZAR sends a ‘conditional’ invitation to the Pumas…
I don’t know what you call it, but I call it a slap in the face of one of the (not always but definately recently) most successful rugby union teams in the world.
Argentina have won 161 of their 270 Test matches, a win record of 59.63%.
If you consider some of the names Argentine rugby has produced like Patricio Noriega (who later represented Australia), Christian Martin, Federico Méndez, Hugo Porta, Augustine Pichot and Henrandez (to name a few) and how Argentine rugby is arguably one of the most balanced rugby nations when it comes to brute strength in the forwards, magicians in the backline, and a unrivalled passion from their players (just look at the emotion when they sing their national anthem) who has a home union still operating as an amateur union in 2009, you would understand why I believe the Rugby Old-Boys’ club (4 home unions up North and 3 SANZAR unions) are shit scared in case they just might awake rugby’s REAL, Sleeping Giant…Tweet