Phil Kearns has said the Jaguares should not be playing Super Rugby since “they are a national team”.
His opinion was quoted by the media all over the globe. He also said that Super Rugby is a “provincial competition” and that the UAR should have presented a provincial team instead of a national one.
Most comments by readers on many of these media sites were dismissive of Kearns’ opinion but there were some echoes to his words, which got me thinking about the issue.
In particular, I became interested in the scope that should be attributed to the term provincial and, I think, the definition of such a concept is biased by national criteria of selection of players.
In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there was only one team that had 100 per cent of its players born in the country they represented, which was Argentina.
South Africa had just one ‘foreign’ player (Tendai Mtawarira), New Zealand had six (Ben Franks, Pauliasi Manu, Jerome Kaino, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo), while Australia had nine (Stephen Moore, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, David Pocock, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight and Joe Tomane).
In the current list of 46 players who could potentially play for Argentina the 2019 Rugby World Cup there is only one player that wasn’t born in Argentina; Sebatian Cancelliere, who is the son of two Argentinians that were working in the USA when he was born. His entire rugby career, since childhood, has been in Argentina.
Why, you may wonder, I bring this topic here? That is because it is engraved in Argentine culture (especially in rugby culture) that a player representing club, province, or a country, is a great honor.
The rugby structure in Argentina is still amateur – the Jaguares are the only professional team (this is about to be expanded but, so far it is like that). We understand professional in that context.
I assume (I haven’t had the opportunity to ask any Jaguares players) that playing for the Jaguares is more than just playing for a professional team. Still, the Super Rugby teams are more professional teams than regional teams. Otherwise, how could James Slipper, Murray Douglas, Pete Samu, Irae Simone and Toni Pulu come to the Brumbies in 2019; Mees Erasmus, Robbie Abel, Hugh Roach, Brad Wilkin, Isi Naisarani and Cooper to the Rebels; Sefa Naivalu, Jack Hardy and Bryce Hegarty to the Reds when they all come from different franchises?
I can only imagine a player from a URBA club (the rugby union of the Buenos Aires province in Argentina) playing for Las Aguilas (the name of the URBA representative) and the same would apply to any other province or local union in Argentina.
Therefore, by accepting that the players do not come only from the clubs that play in the province represented by the Super Rugby Franchise, the concept of provincial competition goes away.
In all honesty, what Kearns said is not entirely far-fetched. It is true that the Jaguares is the base over which Los Pumas are built. Still, when entering Super Rugby, SANZAAR requested Argentina to have a competitive team. This caused the implementation of a selection policy for Los Pumas which limited the possibility of foreign-based players playing for the national team.
The idea was to create an incentive (different from money, since it would have been impossible to match) to have the best possible players at the Jaguares. This decision came with a price, which was the negative impact it had in the performance of Los Pumas in recent years.
Perhaps in the future, a second Super Rugby franchise for Argentina might be introduced and that may justify the trips to America. So far, we understand that it would not be possible to have two financially sustainable and competitive teams playing for Argentina. Let’s hope this changes in time.