Monday, December 9, 2013

Radical Changes for Argentine Rugby from 2014-2016

Pichot had his finest hour in 2007 on the pitch and off it is now crucial
The central problem for Argentine rugby in 2013 was the inability of competing against peers. The reasons for this were diverse but one key difference was that Argentina had little or no control over its players unlike those who defeated the South Americans. Agustín Pichot has set about altering this with changes coming into effect from 2014-2016.

Former Argentine captain and IRB Hall of Famer Agustín Pichot has confirmed that Argentina will participate in the 2014 Pacific Cup. In an interview with Periodismo Rugby Pichot confirmed that the withdrawal of Los Pampas XV from South Africa´s Vodacom Cup is to see the Argentine side instead play in the Pacific Cup. The Pacific Cup will be played in March and April in Australia and will feature five Australian teams in addition to Los Pampas XV, Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga. The cost of playing is to be significantly smaller than the Vodacom Cup and Pichot says it is also going to be at a higher level.

Pichot also confirmed that the structure for international duty is to match that of 2013 as Argentina will host Ireland for two tests in June 2014 followed by one against Scotland and after the Rugby Championship Argentina will, as reported on Friday, face France, Italy and Scotland in November 2014. Details of the 2015 Rugby Championship also indicate that a reduced tournament of four matches per team will occur with Argentina´s two away matches to be in Australia and New Zealand. 

The problem of Argentina fielding weakened sides in the June international windows of 2012 and 2013 is to be combated by a radical move that will see Argentina replicate Australia and New Zealand by preventing players based abroad from playing for Los Pumas from 2016 onwards. Last month Daniel Hourcade said that in 2015 he wants 60%-70% of Los Pumas playing their rugby in Argentina and there is now a path to enable this to indeed happen. 

The solution lies in Argentina joining Super Rugby, which is set to be confirmed in February 2014. As a culmination of six years of work Pichot has indicated that Argentina has been well received and, although it is yet to be made official, what remains is to determine how Argentina will play. The likely scenario is that of a two conference model with Argentina joining the South African sides which will total six, rather than five, franchises. Argentina´s one side will play both at home and away but with time the chances of Argentina acquiring more teams is very plausible.

In joining Super Rugby the UAR is to replicate its peers in Australia and New Zealand by denying players the right of international duty if they play their rugby abroad. Pichot argues that the idea is to have between thirty and forty players directly contracted to the UAR and it is they will play Super Rugby for Argentina´s team and test matches for Los Pumas. The former scrumhalf points out that he has already talked to every player based abroad to affirm the importance of them returning.

The players have had it made known that they have until 2015 to finish their careers at professional clubs. For this reason players have been leaving Argentina this year to get a first or final taste of the professional game in the old continent. Pichot points out that if it all goes according to plan then the players will all be signed in 2015 enabling the best possible preparation for Rugby World Cup 2015 and for the players to then have down time ahead of Argentina´s admission to Super Rugby for the 2016 season.

The confirmation, or not, of Argentina´s entrance into Super Rugby will coincide with the election of a new UAR president as Argentine rugby looks to the future to have a visionary leader and one who could bring Rugby World Cup 2023 to South America.

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