It is with profound sadness that I write about the passing of the greatest rugby teacher from Argentina, Angel “Papuchi” Guastella, last night in Tucumán at the age of 85.
Papu was first a teacher of men, a teacher of rugby and then the greatest rugby coach our country has produced. He played for the national team before it was called Pumas and was the coach of the first team to be called Pumas by the South Africans in 1965. He was coach of that team at 34 years of age. He played number 10 for the Argentina team and for his beloved club Pueyrredon which he co-founded in 1953.
His greatest strength was also his weakness, as he was a teacher of men and so wanted “good people” to play rugby. He always spoke about being “buenos muchachos” (good guys). This – what is now called “no d***heads” by the All Blacks – was another of his innovations into rugby.
I cannot state in these paragraphs accurately or completely his story. I will be brief as it is very hard for me to write this morning.
Papu was single all his life. He was married to the game he always loved. Though he had a girlfriend for decades, they never married. He was a simple and humble man. The elite environment of rugby in Buenos Aires was not to his liking. He disliked the politics involved with rugby management and he succeeded despite not engaging in it.
He coached the Pumas, many other select teams, coached Pueyrredon top teams but he also made time to coach juniors and schools. He was involved for decades with the Instituto Bayard, a private school in Buenos Aires, and also coached at the elite public school Nacional de Buenos Aires. He made his teams from Pueyrredon play in the poor areas of the city against local teams that had no affiliation to the UAR to introduce rugby to others beyond the elite.
He introduced probably the greatest group of players to the national team. He selected Hugo Porta and switched him from scrum half to fly half. He coached Martin Sansot, Marcelo Loffreda, Chapa Branca and a huge number of the greatest Pumas. His latest “pupil” was Nico Sanchez. In his last 15 years, Papu moved to Tucumán and supported Tucumán Lawn Tennis club (the irony of the name for a super power of rugby).
He coached me in high school and as a junior in Puey. He somehow was very fond of our class of 1958 and coached many of them since we were kids. You could always hear his voice on the field! Loud and clear, but I don’t think I ever heard him curse.
He was the coach for the first Pumas at the RWC in 1987, and probably his biggest failure. He wanted the team to behave as professionals in preparing for it. Multiple training sessions, concentrations, etc. But the players insisted they were amateurs and took the tournament as another fun tour. Again, he was ahead of his time. He was a true professional but he never made any fortune from rugby. He died of modest means as he lived his entire life.
The entire rugby nation is in mourning. A true giant is gone. A second father to many of us, a dear friend. Bye, enjoy the game above. I am sure you have lots of friends waiting for you: Yangüela, Gutierrez…