Former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns caused controversy recently, with his comments regarding the legitimacy of the Jaguares involvement in Super Rugby. Following the Jaguares 23 – 15 victory over the Waratahs, Kearns declared that the franchise “make a mockery” of the league. Referencing the fact that an incredible 20 out of the 23 players fielded by the Jaguares had previously been involved in the Argentinian national set up, Kearns stated that the Jaguares had “hoodwinked” SANZAAR, because “they’re the national team.”
It is true that the concentration of national team players in the Jaguares set up is unique in club rugby, but is this really surprising given the lack of quality professional sides in Argentina? Furthermore, as Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada retorted, “All our players can play for other franchises, but no one calls them … no one is trying to steal our players from the Southern hemisphere.” Yet this comment also belies an evident pride, passion and loyalty from their players, something missing from many club sides in an increasingly sterile and emotionless professional era.
Furthermore, the Jaguares’ surge to second in the overall Super Rugby standings has been characterised by an impressive combination of grit and aggression, from figures such as Agustin Creevy and Thomas Lavanini (soon to be departing for Leicester), and the power and guile of Moyano, Boffelli and Tuculet. This balance, and the coherence they gain from playing with each other so regularly, is surely the envy of coaches the world over.
However, Kearns’ comments on these facts are both unhelpful and misguided. Would Australian rugby fans not be delighted to see their best talent playing club rugby in their native country? Likewise, the potential XV of South African expatriates would rival most test sides. Therefore, whilst it must be noted that the Jaguares also occasionally see their best talent move abroad (both Santiago Cordero and Nicholas Sanchez, both undoubtedly world class, will be plying their trade in France next season), surely a model in which clubs retain a connection to the local area, by fielding local players, is more beneficial and sustainable in the long term?
In an alternate system, Argentinian players would be forced to move elsewhere in order to seek employment, rather like Pacific Islanders are currently required to. Fostering a thriving club rugby scene in South America should be seen as a potential opportunity for rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, rather than, as Kearns appears to conceive of it, a threat to an established but increasingly stagnant status quo.
In accepting the Jaguares as a stepping-stone towards further progress in Argentina, fans everywhere would be sending a strong message that rugby is as inclusive and accepting as it claims to be. There have been intimations made regarding a second Argentinian Super Rugby side, and a strong Argentinian professional club scene can only be a positive for rugby, improving the sport’s global reach. This is particularly true given the current disarray regarding the future of rugby in Japan, with reports of divisions between South Africa and the other component elements of SANZAAR on future development of the game in Asia.
Fundamentally, the Jaguares play beautiful, intense rugby, and are a joy to watch, replicating much of the flowing, attacking style that Argentina delivered in the 2015 World Cup. Rugby fans must celebrate this, place partisan rivalries aside and hope that a more equitable distribution of wealth and ability allows the same to happen elsewhere.
Written by Joe Ronan