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Argentina's rugby conundrum

Argentina: one of rugby's great mysteries. (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)
Roar Guru
27th July, 2017
82
2870 Reads

Super Rugby action for the Jaguares on the field is over, but it is still very much alive at the desks of the Union Argentina de Rugby (UAR), the media and social networks.

The contract of Raul Perez as head coach of the Jaguares will soon expire and his replacement has not been appointed so far.

Also, the contract of Daniel Hourcade as the coach of the Pumas will expire by the end of this year. Unless there is a miracle recovery of the national team in the Rugby Championship and the matches to be played in November, his job will be in the line of fire.

These are two major potential changes to navigate in the midst of stirred political rugby waters; authority elections for the UAR are due in March 2018.

If results of all the teams that represent Argentina internationally in the last two years are taken into consideration, it seems very unlikely the present administration will serve the following term. It looks like any alternative list might have a strong chance to win.

On one hand, the delay in naming a replacement a very good sign from the authorities, as the next administration would have to honor whatever choices this one makes.

On the other hand, the fact that the next Super Rugby season starts in February 2018 and there is still monumental work at hand to turn the Jaguares into a competitive team, means the delay very much puzzles me.

From what I’ve heard, the names jostling to replace Perez’s position are just more of the same of whatever has been done. In other words, name any ex-Puma player to run the Jaguares or Pumas.

However, that path has proved not to be very from successful so far.

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It is amazing that some of the considered options for the replacements are people who have no experience whatsoever coaching at an international level.

A nation that has devoted so much energy to developing professional rugby to the same level as other nations in such short a period of time cannot afford to make the same mistake over and over again.

The situation gets even worse, because the man appointed to the Jaguares role would have to be aligned with the needs and desires of the coach of the Pumas, as most of the Jaguares players are also playing for the national team. Same guys, different outfits.

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It would be a reasonable question to ask; why do we need two coaches for basically the same team?

Why are players and spectators allowed to get confused by having two different coaches for teams with the same participants?

Why would the players have to do things differently when they wear a different shirt despite having the same teammates next to them on the field?

The hard truth is that the Pumas, the Jaguares, the Argentina XV, and the under 20s – the Pumitas, have been very disappointing this year, while 2016 was also far below expectations.

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Would this not be this the moment to change the structure and explore a different way of doing things?

Why not bring a foreign coach with the expertise and professionalism to take over professional rugby in Argentina?

The last time I heard from someone who may be the highest informal authority on rugby in Argentina, there is a queue of people that want to come and help.

Is it too expensive? It is not done because we are running short of money? Is it an internal political struggle?

If we are short on budget, would it not be wiser to let a couple of the high paid players go and with those funds have someone come and develop players and coaches at the same time?

Players and coaches may come and go, but the investment in knowledge should stay home.

This is why Perez should stay and find an alternative position. Considering the UAR has invested a lot of money in him and, like it or not, he has become the most experienced Argentine coach in Super Rugby, the UAR must cash in the investment, and the same applies to Hourcade if his contract is not renewed.

I am sure there are plenty of places they could be of great value to keep Argentine rugby moving forward.

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It is common knowledge there are people with more suitable CVs than the ones we have at home.

Take Jake White for example. As a coach, he became a Rugby World Cup Champion with South Africa in 2007, took the Brumbies to the Super Rugby finals in 2013, and has coached Montpelier in the Top 14 for the last two years with good results.

Right now he is coaching a team in Japan. He has said every time he’s had the chance that he wants to coach internationally. I do not know much about his personality, but his CV is impressive enough to take a look.

Argentina's Juan Imhoff

(AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

I am sure there are other people available with a similar pedigree that should be taken into account. There is no shame in going after a foreign coach, England did it and it is working very well for them.

A foreign coach with a good reputation will bring more to the table than just his knowledge. I am sure some players will think twice before accepting an offer from the North if they can play under a coach with a good reputation and the ability to turn them into a winning franchise.

I am convinced a good Super Rugby team will have a direct positive impact on the Pumas, which brings us to our next crucial point.

New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa have had up to 150 players each to pick from to represent their countries in Test Matches and the Rugby Championship.

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We have no more than 40 if I am being optimistic. This lack of depth is a huge handicap that has to be addressed.

Economically, we cannot sustain two rugby franchises. We have to have someone else pick up the tab for players we cannot afford to expand the number of players eligible for the national team.

Since the other franchises in Super Rugby are not showing interest in our players, with the exemption of Tomas Cubelli at the Brumbies, we have no choice but look somewhere else.

Europe comes as the natural choice since we already have several players there and, in some cases, playing in top teams.

We have to find some degree of flexibility in the eligibility rules since, locally, we do not have the depth needed to be competitive. The current idea that having players together all year long will make The Pumas stronger seems not to be working.

I am not so sure what the rules for such eligibility should be. On one hand, there is the need to have a competitive Super Rugby team, but it should not be at the expense of a weaker side to represent us internationally.

Beauden Barrett All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

(AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

The November window seems like the right time to play with our best possible team, regardless of where our players are playing. Otherwise, it will be too hard to climb in the world rankings.

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We will keep ending up in difficult pools in the Rugby World Cups, as it will be for us in Japan in 2019.

The blazers at the UAR must also rethink the marketing of Super Rugby in Argentina. Australia is in a similar case of marketing rethinking, as rugby is drawing smaller crowds to the games and TV viewer numbers are decreasing.

The people that enjoy rugby the most in Argentina are the ones that have played, play, or have sons or relatives that are playing the game. How many people do you know that, out of the blue, started to go and watch rugby games?

Not many. So, is this your target for the marketing effort?

After more than 100 years of amateur rugby, where everything had been done with passion, love for your club, and especially love for the game, I do not think Jaguardo, cheerleaders or fireworks are adding much to bring spectators to the game, at least not in Argentina.

I do feel comfortable with what they are doing next to the stadium, with the festival where spectators can get together before and after the game.

Bring back old values, values of friendship and comradeship, the feeling of players leaving everything on the field. Bring staff that really do all they can to have a winning team, be and look professional on and off of the field and, I am sure, people will show up because they would like to be part of that.

The Jaguares are a team with no history. Its players come from all over the country and, since they are basically the same list that play for the Pumas, people look and perceive the franchise as the national representative.

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So, look what people like about the Pumas and there you have a possible answer for where to direct your marketing efforts.

Argentina full-back Joaquin Tuculet.

(AFP: Franck Fife)

The UAR will somehow also have to come to terms with URBA, the most powerful union in the country that runs one of two main tournaments, and make the seven or eight Saturdays a year that the Jaguares play at home like national holidays of rugby.

The URBA could perfectly well move those weekends to play on Sundays. It is just an idea to consider and would carry a lot of work and imagination to make it happen. I am aware of the consequences of my opinion on this subject, but someone has to have the guts to bring it up.

I know I am asking a lot from the URBA but the situation requires a noble gesture. Just look around the globe and see what is going in rugby; there are constant changes, you see that nothing lasts forever, and actions have to be taken.

A pre-game, like in the old days with the Pumas, before the Jaguares games at home would a good idea. You could have the Argentina XV play at the same venue right before the Jaguares play for three or four of the home rounds, while the Pumitas could play also in some of the other rounds.

Keep playing the Pumas games around the entire country, it is fantastic for local rugby enthusiasts and also for tourists, as it’s a fun way to get to know the beautiful landscapes Argentina has to offer.

People are more eager to travel to follow the Pumas around the country than the Argentina XV or the Pumitas, but two games for the price of one, plus the help from URBA, will perfectly double up the number of spectators at the stadium.

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Does anybody think it’s no good for kids to go and watch two top-notch games with your teammates, friends, or family? Make it a rugby day, not just a game and enjoy the entertainment around the stadium.

The UAR at this point must also review the way they are doing business with the main sponsors.

Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina makes a pass

(AFP PHOTO / MARTY MELVILLE)

First of all, there are rumors that individual players are being endorsed by sponsors, and coaches are feeling the pressure from those same sponsors to see their investments returned on the field.

Regardless of whether this is true or not, the situation needs to be clarified so that all players have the same chances of being on the field. That will ensure everybody that the selection choices are based on merit and not on money.

It will bring peace of mind among players, while spectators – the ones that buying the product – will feel they are getting the best possible product for what they are paying.

Finally, it goes without saying that an impartial press is essential to the fairness of all this.

If there is going to be only one program about rugby on TV, it has to be a fair one. It needs to explain things the way they are even if it hurts, or at least present opposite views on the same program.

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An honest, healthy debate would bring some fresh air to the scenery. It is hard to believe the specialists have an impartial view when they are so close to the players, or even when some are in the same commercial spots under the same sponsor.

These experts may be completely honest with their views, but they must understand that not everybody sees things in the same way. The last thing you want is fans to be suspicious of their judgments because the product will fall apart.

There is so much to write that I left out, but the comments will be an excellent place for this debate, and I am looking forward to reading your opinions.