Sunday, August 4, 2013

South African squad announcement questions existing policies of test rugby

Horacio Agulla´s Bath
colleague François Louw
was allowed to play in
June. Agulla was not.
Argentine rugby fans and players themselves were forced to suffer greatly as England toured for two tests in June and returned home having dominated in both Salta and Buenos Aires. The matches were official tests and saw Argentina lose a significant number of ranking points and thus fall in the IRB World Rankings to a questionable position. For many it was a humiliation but it was intentional. An arrangement between the UAR and bodies in both France and England meant that club players involved in representing Argentina at international level can play in either the June internationals or the Rugby Championship but not both. The result is that Argentina missed all of Horacio Agulla, Patricio Albacete, Lucas González Amorosino, Marcos Ayerza, Marcelo Bosch, Gonzalo Camacho, Manuel Carizza, Agustín Creevy,  Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Santiago Fernández, Juan Figallo, Eusebiu Guiñazú, Martín Rodríguez Guruchaga, Juan Martín Hernández, Juan Imhoff, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Nicolás Sánchez, Leonardo Senatore, Gonzalo Tiesi, Joaquín Tuculet in June. The same players are instead all a part of the squad for the upcoming 2013 Rugby Championship.

South Africa has a similar situation only there is no agreement between the union and the clubs. As such South African international players are able to play in both June and November at test level in addition to taking the field in the Rugby Championship. Should they miss out on playing for their clubs there is no compensation involved. There are, in other words, one set of rules for Argentina and another for South Africa. Of the thirty Springboks squad announced this weekend there are a total of nine players contracted to clubs in England, France, Ireland and even Japan. Unlike Argentina´s above mentioned players there are clear instances of South Africa´s foreign contingent having played for the Springboks in June.

South Africa hosted an experimental tour which saw matches against all of Italy, Samoa and Scotland in the republic. The series was organized to counter balance the weak tourists in marketing terms due to the British and Irish Lions playing in Australia and France in New Zealand. With it not being possible to host England, France, Ireland or Wales the South African Rugby Union (SARU) looked to create a tournament in the hope of carrying greater pulling power to attract more sponsorship and sell more tickets than would have been the case had it been a secenario such as Scotland touring for two tests and Italy for one.

Bath backrower Francois Louw played against both Italy and Samoa in the series while his clubmate Horacio Agulla did not play at all for Argentina. Such is the controversy and the lack of power wielded by the IRB to see the June tests take genuine test status that Agulla was obligated to not play at all despite his situation being virtually identical to that of Louw. The Springbok has been playing for Bath since Rugby World Cup 2011 meaning that while Agulla, contracted firstly to Leicester and later to Bath, was rested in June 2012 and June 2013 Louw was able for his country at the same time. The rules enforcing Argentina not to select Agulla are based on player welfare. They are designed to ensure he will not be burned out upon completing international duty with Argentina in the Rugby Championship. But Louw played four tests in the 2012 Rugby Championship followed by three in November 2012 and then two in June 2013 after finishing Aviva Premiership duties. He therefore was not rested unlike Agulla.

The controversy was not limited to players already contracted to European clubs however. Argentine backrower Leonardo Senatrore signed a contract to join the Worcester Warriors after the 2013 Rugby Championship. His move to England comes from Argentina meaning he was not playing the 2012-2013 European club season yet missed out on playing for Argentina in June unlike Louw for South Africa. Moreover all of Bryan Habana, Juandré Kruger, Morné Steyn and Jano Vermaak played Super Rugby in South Africa in 2013 and are all joining French clubs for the 2013-2014 season yet all are in the Springboks squad for the Rugby Championship. The issue of player welfare therefore appears nonsensical as by June 2014 they will have been playing non-stop for fifteen months. They will be playing for Toulon, Racing Métro, Stade Français and Toulouse the clubs which are home to the likes of Fernández Lobbe, Hernández, Imhoff, Rodríguez Gurruchaga and Albacete - players unable to play for Argentina in June.

While Senatore did not play for Argentina in June all these South Africans were fully entitled to take the field in a Springboks jersey. Twenty-one year old Nahuel Lobo also missed out on playing in June. He is to play in the Aviva Premiership for the Newcastle Falcons after having been a medical joker for Montpellier in the Top 14 last season. The two examples raise the issue of the need for a global season that will see all professional players given a universal rest period. There cannot be one set of rules for Pumas and  another for Springboks involved in the same exact competitions. Curiously similar policies have seen Tier Two nations greatly impacted. Samu Manoa, for instance, has had limited chances at representing his country. His country, the USA has no power on the IRB with the USA given no voting power on the IRB Council. Coincidently, or not, Argentina has one vote compared to South Africa which has two.

The Ulster based Ruan Pienaar also played in June. He has been playing for the Irish province since 2010 and in the 2013 Rugby Championship he is one of four scrumhalves. Two of the three others are  contracted to foreign teams - Fourie du Preez to Suntory Sungoliath in Japan and Jano Vermaak to Toulouse. Piet van Zyl is to join the squad for the overseas tests with du Preez only being available for the South African based matches. This is due to him returning to Japan in time for the club season, a similar case to that of former All Black Sonny Bill Williams in 2012. The IRB needs to act as does the UAR. The former needs to clarify why European clubs do not have an agreement with the SARU when this was mandatory for Argentina to join the Rugby Championship in the first place. SANZAR demanded it and the IRB made sure an agreement was signed. The UAR also needs to take a stronger stand and insist on a global season with the June internationals moved to July.


  1. Some nations have power and can call the shots on pro rugby clubs. Other nations have no power and no pro rugby and have the shots called for them.

    Guess which catergory Argentina is in?

  2. It is a shame that the Argentine public no longer gets any opportunity to see any proper test matches with the 6 Nations in Argentina.

    The current rule is a complete joke, and rendered those matches with England a waste. The players don't even play less games missing June as they play NSW. And the likes of Francois Louw or Gurthro Steenkamp don't miss June as you point out, so why should the Pumas?