Saturday, March 3, 2012

The success story of the Pampas XV and how it has helped Argentine rugby progress

After a very generous arrangement thanks to the SARU (South African Rugby Union) in January 2010 the Pampas XV was born as they got a slot in the Vodacom Cup. Since then it has been a phenomenal success and very beneficial for Argentine rugby.

But it is the second season where the Pampas XV were champions that was the best example of why the competition has been so good for Argentine rugby. The nature of the tournament which was week in week out, seemed to help the players more than Argentina Jaguars has done, and in turn that has helped the national side the Pumas massively as well.
The career of Juan Imhoff took off thanks to the Pampas XV

Take Juan Imhoff for example, he had been in the Jaguars set up for a couple of years since 2009 but was going nowhere in the old set up, he spent two years aimlessly scoring tries but hardly got an opportunity to help gain Argentine selection.

But then last year during the Vodacom Cup, a star was found, Imhoff had been scoring tries at a very good rate for Rosario and the Jaguars side previously but as I mentioned it got him nowhere, but after selection for the Pampas XV and scoring 10 tries in as many matches and being nominated for player of the tournament, he was on the Pumas radar and continued to grab his opportunities and by the end of the year ended up in the World Cup squad scoring two tries and playing professionally very well for Racing-Métro in France.

If it wasn’t for the Pampas XV, then the Pumas would have probably gone into the World Cup with average players like Lucas Borges or Federico Martín Aramburú (no offense but they are not in the same league in terms of skill as Imhoff). But thanks to the Pampas XV, Imhoff was able to get opportunities and rise up the ranks all within a year. Stuck in the old system, he would have probably had to wait a lot longer for an opportunity to get noticed and get further opportunities. The Pumas side have now a very good player who should still get better over time.

Imhoff is one good example of the success of the Pampas XV, but there are others. Maximiliano Bustos wouldn’t have been selected for the World Cup squad either. In 2010, Juan Gómez was called up for the Pumas larger squad to play Scotland, and he was not one of Argentina’s finest exports to Europe having a poor spell with Leinster. Yet he or possibly Pablo Henn would have probably been preferred to the quality scrummager Bustos for the World Cup, despite clearly not being as good.

The Pampas XV is like a club side, and for that reason it is more beneficial than the Jaguars and a better indication of a player than domestic rugby in Argentina. The coaches can watch a player for a period of 11 matches, and can easier judge which players have Pumas qualities and can monitor their consistency rather than the one off nature of Jaguars matches where not always a lot can be judged in one or two matches. Whilst the higher standard of the tournament in relation to domestic rugby in Argentina, where it is also hard to judge players in regards to international rugby.

For example Imhoff scoring a couple of tries for the Jaguars and tries in the domestic Argentine tournament, doesn’t really give much of an idea whether he’s ready for a step up in level. However scoring 10 in as many matches at a similar level to the Jaguars matches does.
Manuel Montero has a great opportunity this season with the Pampas

An Argentine player now no longer has to wait to be signed for a European side to be selected to be in Pumas contention and can rise up to the Pumas squad a lot quicker, there are now opportunities that previously wouldn’t have been available for young Argentine based players.

For example a very promising youngster Manuel Montero, now this year has the opportunity of over three months to impress and have a chance of a rise to Pumas selection after the precedent set by Imhoff. The progress of youngsters would have been previously slowed down without the Pampas XV.

As well as the Pumas selectors, the same applies to scouts and coaches from professional European teams who can judge better a player as well and thus 21 players in two seasons from the squad have signed in Europe, which of course is beneficial for the players to be playing at a higher level of rugby consistently.

There is a lot to thank South Africa for arranging what has become a very good platform for Argentine players to play professionally and become Pumas. The Argentine governing body the UAR who are still dreadfully slow to make rugby in Argentina professional have a lot thank both South Africa and France for the Pumas development since the 1999 World Cup.

Unfortunately for South Africa though, as France have experienced in the past as well, their help to Argentine rugby may result in some losses to the Pumas in the future, who knows perhaps with many Pampas XV alumni leading the Pumas to victory.

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