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Argentina: The perpetual rugby oddity

Andrew Roar Pro

By Andrew, Andrew is a Roar Pro

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    Argentina has long been one of the most mystifying, captivating and bewildering outliers in the rugby universe.

    It is believed outside backs were not discovered in this vast foreign land until the mid to late 90s and that the majority of Argie forwards are made up of the leftover chunks of fat, gristle and bone from the country’s delicious steaks.

    The relative mystery they still emanate is due to the infrequent nature of scheduled tests before their Rugby Championship admittance, exemplified by the nine-year gap between Wallabies versus Pumas fixtures from 2003 until 2012.

    I loved how you would not hear about the Argies for a few years and then they would rock up to a World Cup and bloody the noses of the big boys with hitherto unheard of Spanish names rolling off the commentator’s tongues bringing something seemingly exotic to proceedings – though it’s not hard when the entire Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English teams had variations on approximately five surnames.

    Perhaps my favourite Argentina quirk is the fact they played one of my other most treasured things about rugby, the British and Irish Lions, in a match I had no idea existed until recently, in Cardiff in 2005, with the Lions awarding test caps for the clash and Argentina bizarrely deciding not to.

    Until recently there was also an old-school violent streak that ran through their identity, such as the infamous punch-up with Wales in Buenos Aires in 1999 as well as eye-gouging incidents at the 1999, 2003 and 2015 world cups. With their shift towards playing attacking, positive rugby, hopefully we have seen the last of these sorts of acts which have no place in the modern game. if someone could alert Dylan Hartley about this, that would be great.

    (Image: AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    The Pumas’ win over a broken Wallabies team in Buenos Aires in 1997 signalled the end of Greg Smith’s tenure as Australian coach, while the awe-inspiring spectacle of the two teams facing off in the massive River Plate stadium in 2002 has stuck long in the memory. While this Saturday’s encounter will probably not spell the end of Cheika’s reign and though GIO (always Bruce to me) Stadium is not as colossal or grand as the River Plate, there is a lot riding on this fixture that many would not have predicted a few months ago.

    Argentina’s madcap series loss to a virtual England B team in June, coupled with the demoralising losses to South Africa, had threatened to send the Pumas’ back to their struggling initial Rugby Championship years; however, last week against New Zealand in New Plymouth they were able to summon the spirit of their thrilling 2015 World Cup run (especially the Ireland and All Blacks games), for 60 minutes at least.

    That spells trouble for the Wallabies, who seemed to regress in Perth after the highs of Dunedin, and a newly confident, all-action Argentina is not the tonic they need to somehow claw back a winning mentality.

    The exact same conversations about the Wallabies shortcomings have been repeated ad nauseam since the Scotland loss, so I won’t indulge again, but there’s a reason we’re still having them – Dunedin aside, everything feels the same, and a loss this weekend would make them odds-on favourites to claim the wooden spoon, as it would take a brave man to bet on them winning in Mendoza (one for The Simpsons fans) or Bloemfontein.

    I still predict the Wallabies to win, but if Argentina is in the same position at 60 minutes that they were last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if those newly discovered outside backs and chunks of steak don’t let this one slip.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 3:37am
      Carlos the Argie said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:37am | ! Report

      Basically, this is a write up from someone with very little knowledge of the history of Argentine rugby.

      Though the fatties have always been famous, it was the backs who were first named to player of the year lists. It was the most amazing full back Martin Sansot who was named the “seventh wonder of the world” (as teased by his club and national team’s coach, Guastella) in 1976. Also, in that same year, the Pumas had an amazing game in Cardiff Arms Park, where they lost 20-19 with a Phil Bennett penalty, where he took quite a few steps forward from the mark to convert. You can watch the highlights on youtube and see the most beautiful tries by the backs.

      Here is one version which includes the tries against Wales:

      The try against England was also a classic one and ended in a “kiss your sister” score.

      You can’t forget Hugo Porta, who despite being an extraordinary kicker, could also run, side step and sell dummies. What he wouldn’t do much was tackle…

      You can watch the meters stolen by Bennett here. Check where the high tackle was made and where he kicked:

      Anyway, thanks for the write up. I do am ashamed by a lot of the dirty tricks employed over time by Argies, as well as by any team playing that commits them. There is a video of a AB-Pumas game in 1979 (more or less), where Porta is playing and a famous AB tackles and punches Porta while out of bounds and without the ball. Of course, there are handbags but the referee said nothing. The game was played in NZ. Nobody has a clean history.

      • Roar Pro

        September 14th 2017 @ 6:06am
        Andrew said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:06am | ! Report

        Not claiming to know a whole lot about the history of Argentinian rugby – was just a light-hearted piece. I hope it did show through that I have a lot of affection for the Puma’s – their outsider status through geography and language has long fascinated me.

        Thanks for the youtube links and background behind them – can never get enough of old, historic footage from epic tests of yore!

        • Roar Guru

          September 14th 2017 @ 7:05am
          Carlos the Argie said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:05am | ! Report

          I know…

          Just be careful. Sometimes cliches are right but many times they are not.

          Argie rugby infuriates me. It is, to be flippant, a bipolar situation. They can make me happy to nirvana and they can frustrate me with utter disgust.

          I spent more years of my life outside Argentina than living there. But the one thing that keeps me as an Argie at soul is rugby. Not soccer, not many of the other cultural things associated with the country.

          I should add a good Malbec and asado to it…

          • September 14th 2017 @ 9:55am
            PiratesRugby said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

            Hey Carlos, I’ve always been a fan of the Pumas. They have a distinctive style of play (forwards and backs). But it’s their love of scrummaging and excellence in that set piece brings a tear to my eye. Good luck on Saturday.
            I think the Rebels will play the Jaguares in Argentina in 2018. Look forward to travelling to watch that. May need to speak to you about best places to visit!

            • September 17th 2017 @ 9:01pm
              Fionn said | September 17th 2017 @ 9:01pm | ! Report

              Pirates, I don’t know if you’ll get the chance to visit as Argentina is a big country, but I’ve seen some documentaries on Patagonia, and it truly looks like one of the world’s great and unique places.

              Hope you have a great holiday in Argentina, and look forward to hearing about it here… and about the food and the wine too 🙂

          • September 14th 2017 @ 11:21am
            Rex said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

            The Argies are the equivalent of the French in the way they play at times. They have vastly improved though, the Argies should have beaten us in the last RWC final. The only thing that sucks for the Argies is the lack of competition of a high standard in the Western Hemisphere, so I can understand why they were admitted into the Super Rugby expansion. I would love to watch a game over there, then have a massive steak with a good quality Malbec from Mendoza.

          • September 15th 2017 @ 1:22am
            eeds said | September 15th 2017 @ 1:22am | ! Report

            Hey Carlos,
            I live in chile but I’m moving over to B.A next week. I was wondering if you had a good place to get club rugby news? I’d love to be able to get to some club games as well as have a new conversation topic! In Spanish is fine.

            Also I think I remember you saying you were a fan of belgrano and I noticed they have a Olympic sized swimming pool at their facilities. Do you know if you need to be a member to access this pool?

            • Roar Guru

              September 15th 2017 @ 2:40am
              Carlos the Argie said | September 15th 2017 @ 2:40am | ! Report

              Nobrain is a member of Belgrano Athletic Club. You should ask him. BAC is where I played my first rugby and where I watched rugby for the first time, but alas, I never played FOR the club. And, as one of the biggest misses in my rugby life, I never managed to play a game at their site in Virrey del Pino. My biggest miss.

              You should ask Shop about Mendoza, he lives there now.

              There are multiple rugby sites in Spanish in Argentina. Many of the journalists are sycophants of the UAR, so criticism is very muted, but some have forums with fierce criticism.

              Watching club rugby in Argentina is very exciting, especially if you watch Top 14. They even have “soccer-like” crowds (though at a much smaller level).

            • Roar Guru

              September 15th 2017 @ 3:51am
              Nobrain said | September 15th 2017 @ 3:51am | ! Report

              Hi EEDS , as well as Carlos posted I go often to Belgrano Athletic to watch the games .
              Virrey del Pino 3456 is the address and anybody can go and purchase the entrance few minutes before the game. It is pretty cheap. The pool and all the other facilities are club members.

              • September 15th 2017 @ 1:53pm
                eeds said | September 15th 2017 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

                Cheers fellas, I’m on the roar 10 times a day but I rarely post. It’s awesome to see something I invest time in so regularly work like a treat when I need it too.

                @Carlos – nice, my club is the marlins in the Shute shield. My experiences mirror yours in terms of playing at my clubs main ground but i can’t say I don’t feel the slightest bit of pride when guys I used to play with and against playing at all levels of the game in Australia now.

                I grabbed tickets to the wallabies – pumas match on the 7th in Mendoza actually. If I see them post I’ll have to ask them a few tips as well.

                Re: club rugby- yeah I saw some on t.v last time I was in Argentina. I can’t remember who was playing but it was an exciting game.

                @nobrain – yeah sweet, i thought the pool might be members only. From what I gather game day is Saturday arvo? Sounds like a good way to spend it if so…

              • Roar Guru

                September 17th 2017 @ 8:46pm
                Shop said | September 17th 2017 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

                Hi eeds,
                I’m of course going to the match on the 7th. Perhaps a cerveza before the game is in order?
                I don’t know BA that well but can tell you it is too big and fast for me to live, awesome place to visit though! The rugby set up there is very passionately followed.
                Rugby in Mendoza is strong but still amateur.
                All the best for you move.

          • September 17th 2017 @ 8:57pm
            Fionn said | September 17th 2017 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

            Carlos, any time you’re in Australia and are interested in showing a naive Aussie how to do and enjoy a proper Argentine asado and malbec, believe me, I would be very appreciative. 🙂

    • September 14th 2017 @ 4:13am
      DavSA said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:13am | ! Report

      Their is a special relationship that exists ….yes even to this day between Argentinian rugby and us in SA. The name Hugo Porta still resonates here. We taught Argentina to scrum………and then they taught us in return. …Discount Superugby it is a poor fit for them , come Saturday I have faith that Australia will find the.going tough. ……so far in this tournament they have had by some distance the worst of the traveling schedule . In fact this is the first game they will have played without having travelled thousands of kilometers.

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 1:26pm
      HardcorePrawn said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

      “the entire Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English teams had variations on approximately five surnames”
      While that often gets said about the Welsh (Jones, Evans, Williams, Morgan etc.), that’s not an accusation I’ve ever heard levelled at the Scots, Irish or English.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 2:07pm
      Sulzberg said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

      I’d say a loss to the Pumas this weekend may signal the end of Chieka coaching tenure , that Agustín Creevy is the real deal…., he would make the bench for the ABs easy, not so sure about Stephen Moore. When they click they are hard to beat.

    • September 15th 2017 @ 6:28am
      Galatzo said | September 15th 2017 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      Good chat from everybody, and a pleasant article, Andrew. Something Argentinians will have to put up with if they get an English language feed is the commentators calling the Argentine team Los Poomas. Even though the team was mistakenly named after a mountain lion, in English it’s a puma, pronounced pewma. So while it’s not incorrect to call them Los Poomas, it would be better to call them the pewmas more often than not.

      But however they’re called, they’re a spirited team and those high go-chase-it punts they put in against the ABs will be pretty effective against the WBs.

      • Roar Guru

        September 15th 2017 @ 7:17am
        Carlos the Argie said | September 15th 2017 @ 7:17am | ! Report

        Well, you could always call them The Yaguaretés if you want….

        They call pumas “poomas” here in Southern California. Maybe it is because of the high percentage of the Hispanic population. And, actually, where I live, we have quite a few pumas living sort of peacefully. Not far from the city, it is amazing!

        Here is the family of mountain lions, or pumas, near home.

        Interestingly, one of my neighbors not more than 200 yards from home, lost 2 goats to a “puma” early this spring.

        Next will be a wallaby in the diet.

    • September 15th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Galatzo said | September 15th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Hi Carlos. A Puma walked into the Empress Hotel, a huge, 19th century building overlooking the harbor, in Victoria BC a few years back scattering dowages right and left. Then another one was found in somebody’s backyard about a year back. Even Salt Spring Island isn’t safe. One end of it is about a half mile from the mainland and now and then a puma swims over. They call the animal control people, the puma’s shot with an anesthetic dart and released in the wilderness. Then it comes back a year later. There have been no attacks on humans so far. I note they’re up there in the Chaco close to Salta. What with the jaguars and the curry empanadas, the Argentine can be a dangerous place.

      • Roar Guru

        September 15th 2017 @ 8:33am
        Carlos the Argie said | September 15th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        Oh, how I miss empanadas! There is an excellent Argie market 20 miles from home and once every two months or so I go to get empanadas, but with no curry (WTF? curry in empanadas?). I also get chorizos and a blood sausage. Nobody eats the blood sausage at home, and if I look at it, then I stop eating too. It is one of those things better tasted than seen. Pas de double entendre, s’il vous plaît!

        The pumas here are in trouble. They are going to build a huge overpass over the highway to allow animals to roam more freely. Right now they are getting inbred so it is hard for them. They are stuck between highways and the ocean but they manage to survive and even reproduce!

        They need a guide to tell them where to go. Like the Pumas you have over there. Too much inbreeding and without a proper coach…

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