Cape Town – Are Argentina set to become victims of another Highveld
“cricket score” against the Springboks?
It must be deemed an uncomfortable possibility, when you
consider that the Pumas will be fielding some new, presumably fairly callow
faces for their Castle Rugby Championship 2014 opener at Loftus on Saturday ...
and South Africa, if anything, are only getting more accomplished,
multi-dimensional and try-hungry in the third year of Heyneke Meyer’s coaching
Nobody needs reminding that when they played at the
reasonably nearby FNB Stadium in last year’s competition, the Pumas were
slaughtered 73-13 in a result that remains the worst of their dozen since they
entered the picture and forced a name change to the former Tri-Nations in 2012.
It also barely needs stating that outcomes like that one,
doing little to suggest the coveted principle of strength versus strength,
aren’t great advertisements for the still-novice “fourth element” in the
southern hemisphere competition: fortunately they haven’t occurred especially
But there also appears to be a mounting lobby suggesting
this third season is a key one for the South Americans in ensuring the validity
or otherwise of continued participation in the event.
Latest to weigh in with his sixpence on that score is former
All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall.
Writing in his column on Monday in the New Zealand Herald,
Marshall, generally an astute and unbiased commentator, says: “Argentina need
to win a game (in the 2014 Championship) ... I can’t put it more simply or
emphasise it enough.
“They’ve drawn once and should have won, but that’s not
going to wash any more.
“Their continued involvement in the tournament requires more
than a hint of promise; if anything, they were closer to being competitive in
their first year.
“Without a quality domestic tournament, there are no easy
answers to the Argentina conundrum, but the success of this tournament relies
on bums on seats and ratings, and if the Pumas don’t quickly emerge as a
competitive force, then they become a liability.”
Marshall and those who back his sentiment are entitled to
their view ... but I believe it is a misguided, crazily premature one.
Whoever thought the Pumas, with all their obstacles (at
least Marshall did pinpoint one or two) would arrive in the Championship and almost
immediately take it by storm?
Frankly, they haven’t fared too badly considering that they
were thrown into the ring with the trio of powers most often associated in
modern times with the top three positions on the IRB rankings ... and just by
way of reminder, that is precisely the case at present, whilst the Pumas lie a particularly
distant 12th even behind the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Japan.
Already they have been involved in some desperately close
scraps, especially against the Boks and Wallabies.
South African fans must still squirm in discomfort over that
fortuitous stalemate in Mendoza in 2012, when the Boks were under the cosh for
lengthy periods and required Frans Steyn’s converted, charge-down try to spare
blushes in the final quarter.
While it is true that the world champion All Blacks have not
yet had a real heart-stopper in their quartet of Championship games against the
Pumas, it is worth highlighting the hardly trivial statistic that in two
clashes on New Zealand soil (Wellington, then Hamilton) the overwhelmingly
fancied hosts have yet to manage a four-try bonus point.
All these are signs of substantial progress -- perhaps even
more than might have been reasonably anticipated at the outset of Argentina’s
The Pumas are a colourful, sometimes incredibly feisty addition
to the otherwise fairly staid rugby landscape south of the equator, and I think
you will find that many Test stalwarts from the more fancied nations, including
the Boks, find the annual trek to notably different cultural terrain pretty
Argentina require a patient, ongoing helping hand from their
juggernaut southern hemisphere rivals to aid their broad development in rugby
and simultaneously claw back to healthier real estate on the Test rankings.
The more they play them, the wiser they’ll get.
More than enough Championship games thus far have indicated
that, even if the floodgates have also opened against them at times.
What earthly good does brutally cutting the Championship rope
on the Pumas do?
And why should this mere, third season of involvement be
regarded as some sort of watershed for them?
Argentina must not be made to feel under intolerable,
life-threatening heat to win matches in this year’s competition ... and yes, I
believe I will still be banging that drum if they are beaten by a wide margin
Argentina results in
2012 (fourth, four
points): SA 27 Argentina 6, Cape Town; Argentina 16 SA 16, Mendoza; NZ 21
Argentina 5, Wellington; Australia 23 Argentina 19, Gold Coast; Argentina 15 NZ
54, La Plata; Argentina 19 Australia 25, Rosario.
2013 (fourth, two
points): SA 73 Argentina 13, Johannesburg; Argentina 17 SA 22, Mendoza; NZ
28 Argentina 13, Hamilton; Australia 14 Argentina 13, Perth; Argentina 15 NZ
33, La Plata; Argentina 17 Australia 54, Rosario.
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