It was not all that long ago that Argentina was seen as a great success story for the growth of rugby union. While the game has been played in the country for decades, the sight of Los Pumas sitting at No. 5 in the world rankings at the start of 2016 was something that couldn’t even have been imagined just 10 years prior.
Through grassroots funding, hard work at all levels, and key steps by various governing bodies to grow the game, Argentina had become proof that a country without 100 years of rugby history could play against the big boys and win.
That though suddenly seems so long ago. Argentina has lost 13 of its last 16 Test matches and has slipped to 10th in the world rankings. In many of those matches – admittedly against the best in the world – they have looked far off of the pace and a shadow of their former selves. Initial inclusion into The Rugby Championship helped elevate the game in Argentina, while the addition of a Super Rugby side was supposed to further boost their level of competitiveness.
Unfortunately, though it has all gone wrong because of one asinine rule change,
It was following the 2015 Rugby World Cup that the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR) made a drastic change to their policy on where players were allowed to ply their trade. Bolstered by a deep run in the World Cup – they reached the semifinal while sweeping all before them – and by the Jaguares Super Rugby debut, the union decided that in order to be eligible to play for the national side you had to be playing in Argentina.
You can see the thinking here. This is a similar rule to the one that has been adopted by many other countries who are worried about the monetary power of the Northern Hemisphere clubs prising away their stars. Argentina as a national side was being ultra successful, so getting all those players onto the park for the Jaguares would give that team its best shot at winning Super Rugby games.
The problem is that Argentina is not New Zealand. The player pool and quality depth just doesn’t exist like it does with every other country in the Rugby Championship. With just one Super Rugby franchise in the country, how are players going to develop with meaningful minutes if they are sat behind a starter for years on end? That is how you create depth, but by taking away the opportunity to play at the top level the UAR pulled the rug out from under its own players.
That is why the likes of Juan Figallo, Marcelo Bosch and Facundo Isa have disappeared to play in Europe, leaving massive holes in the Pumas side. It is why Patricio Fernandez – the next big thing at fly-half in the country – is plying his trade with Clermont. Argentina does not have the ability to lose four or five or its top players and still compete with Australia and South Africa.
The ideal solution would be to scrap this policy altogether until Argentina has built more depth. Failing that, they could easily take a page from the Wallabies book and say players with a certain number of Test caps (perhaps 40) are exempt from the overseas player rule. This solution works on several levels because it gives players a big payday when they reach that figure while allowing younger players to develop before being thrust into the Test arena.
Whatever solution is decided, it needs to happen quickly before Argentina become little more than the Italy of the South.
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