JJ Harmse

Let's welcome the “Bajada”

2010-04-01 09:11
JJ Harmse
JJ Harmse

Any news story on Argentina’s participation in any rugby competition of note would have had the same reaction as an April Fool's joke until a year or so ago.

For years much talk has delivered nothing in substance, with news on any possible growth of Argentinean rugby resulting in people using the full rugby calendar as an excuse.

This time, the IRB announced that they will fund the Pumas inclusion in the proposed Four Nations, in late March, but definitely not on April 1. This time it is for real.

And with the Pampas XV playing in the Vodacom Cup competition as an entry level to a full professional structures, the time for jokes has passed. We will soon have a serious rugby nation playing in a serious rugby competition.

There has been a lot of speculation on how the participation of the Pumas could benefit the other Tri-Nations teams, though ...

From a South African perspective it will even out the travel constraints, as both New Zealand and Australia will have to travel around the world to play in South America. For too long we have suffered this alone.

I am excited about their involvement because of the benefits it will bring through the Springboks being exposed to their style of play.  We can certainly learn a lot from their scrumming techniques, their driving play and their great ability to contest the ball on the ground.

The South Americans, in turn, will learn to speed up the game, use their backline more, and of course, how to run a professional team where players are based in a central location.

For spectators, TV stations and the game in general, it is great news. A new product will bring new revenue possibilities, a new market will open up, not only in Argentina, but amongst all Spanish speaking audiences.

South Africa deserves a pat on the back as we have been championing the Argentinean cause for a long time. It is fair to say that this seemed to be fruitless in the early years, but it has finally paid off.

It will also have an effect on rugby north of the equator. This move will hopefully see more and more professional players from Argentina playing in the Southern Hemisphere. It will not only help them, but also open up serious employment issues amongst French clubs. There are numerous Pumas employed in various clubs in Europe and it will be interesting to see how this change will impact on the player market.

With even a powerhouse like Stade François suffering financial problems, the opportunity to offload a dozen or more high-earning Pumas might make French clubs rethink their employment.

Not that it will happen everywhere! Toulon seem very determined to buy a Super team, with Bakkies Botha the latest name to be added to the “Possibles” list.

One can understand why Bakkies would be interested in a lucrative offer in 2011. He would have played in his third World Cup, he has won everything there is to win and would play out his career on his terms.

Hopefully he has had a long chat with Victor Matfield, though. One would have thought that Matfield would be the better tourist of the two, but the fact is Matfield did not last long and as soon as it was possible, he was back in Pretoria. Botha seems to be less of a world traveller and more of a Bosveld hunting type of guy, so let’s hope it will be worth it for him should he decide to go that route.

I am sure many senior players are thinking along those lines, with 2011 a last hurrah in the Bok jersey. I know there were similar fears in 2007, but then the British and Irish Lions tour kept a lot of players at home.

I doubt whether Argentina in the Four Nations will have the same pull, though. If I had to pick between a few Boks leaving for Europe in 2012, or staying to play Argentina in the Four Nations ... I wish Bakkies and the others lots of luck!

Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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