After years of hard work and toil Argentina have finally been rewarded for their improvement, writes Dan Grose. Their additional spot in a revamped Tri Nations is nothing more than they deserve, and will ultimately benefit the world game as a whole.
For many years The Pumas were often mentioned in the same bracket as Italy; a plucky and improving side with the potential to have a bright future. Yet, whilst the Italians were rewarded with a place in a rebranded Six Nations, the arguably stronger Argentinians were still without a regular stage on which to test themselves.
When considering their vast improvement in recent seasons, this fact was even more baffling and has since been rightly rectified.
Their performances at last month’s Rugby World Cup demonstrated ability and character, with both England and New Zealand able to testify to how hard they can be to break down. Yet despite being robust and extremely physical, they also have the ability to play the exciting brand of rugby associated with the Southern Hemisphere.
Players such as Gonzalo Tiesi and Horacio Agulla are providing attacking flair to complement their warring forwards, with longstanding names Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe providing leadership to a well-balanced team. Whilst there are still creases to be ironed out, there are now the foundations of a talented squad.
Indeed their IRB World Ranking speaks for itself. Argentina now lie seventh after their successful World Cup campaign, behind only the Tri Nations teams and France, England and Ireland respectively. New competitors and former World Champions South Africa sit only three places ahead of them, an encouraging sign indeed.
Their surge up the rankings is one mirrored by other developing rugby nations, and justified in their own World Cup performances. The IRB top twenty includes the likes of Romania, Japan and Georgia, who showed great resilience in the face of much stronger opposition despite some harsh score lines. Argentina’s success and subsequent reward should work as an incentive for these teams, showing them just what is possible with continued hard work.
And such tales of success are ones that ensure International Rugby will have a bright future. Argentina’s story is one that rewards ambition, albeit eventually, with a formula that will remain true for any team with the desire and dedication to improve. Higher standards of competition will see the game evolve both technically and as a spectacle, something to please everyone from player to supporter
The All Blacks were given an almighty scare in the World Cup Quarter Finals, and will no doubt know what to expect from Argentina in future. The new Rugby Championship will pit the four teams against each other in an expanded twelve game schedule, and gets underway in earnest next August.
Whatever happens over the course of the tournament, The Pumas can feel proud that, after years of hard work, they are finally playing with the big boys.