After Los Pumas shocked everyone the at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, there was a question left lingering around the future of the squad: “what’s next?”. The first obvious step was to include Argentina in one of the big competitions. The 6 Nations was a better fit for Argentina, both culturally and because their stars were based in Europe, but it was already crowded. And along came The Rugby Championship.
It was a lengthy process to include them among the elite. The period between 2008 and 2011 was full of negotiations. The more relevant ones for us fans revolved around how Argentina would initiate a professional rugby structure in the country. After all, that was one of the most amazing things about the Pumas’ upset in France, that they claimed a step on the world podium without a domestic professional league.
Argentina has a proud and strong amateur rugby heritage, which has not helped smooth the process towards professionalism. The more traditional clubs and organizations (mainly from Buenos Aires) fear that professionalism will “infect” their game in undesirable ways. The recent trend of young up-and-comers like Cipriani, Henson or O’Connor wasting their talent for living a chaotic footballer’s life is one point they have for them.
In the end, the Unión Argentina managed to get a group of local players from all over the country under contracts and scholarships. In the years prior to the 2011 RWC, this group played under different monikers such as Jaguares and Pampas XV. Under this last one they managed to win South Africa’s Vodacom Cup, which runs parallel to Super Rugby but would rank well under the Curry Cup in domestic importance.
Now, Argentina prepares to take this process to the next logical step, Super Rugby. In 2016, a Buenos Aires based franchise will join the South African conference for the world’s toughest club rugby competition. Agustín Pichot, their ever present former scum half and captain now in a managerial role, has warned that players based outside Argentina for their club rugby will not be taken into account for Puma selection.
This has lead players like Lucas González Amorosino to simply not renew their contracts in Europe and return to their home country, even if that means not getting a real salary until the franchise begins. And even then, players will take serious pay cuts compared to what they make in the Old Continent. Players still in their prime like Juan Imhoff, will have a tough decision ahead of them.
Maybe this isn’t difficult at all, maybe all of them will return and sacrifice a little income for the honor of representing their country. What do you think, will the first Argentinian franchise in Super Rugby take to the field with a full strength Pumas side?