Column: From hero to zero for Jaguares

Argentina and the Jaguares are set to be the big losers from world rugby’s shake-up, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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The great irony of rugby’s global season looking like a reality since it was first mooted over a decade ago is that everyone in the game seems to be doing their own thing.

New Zealand has unilaterally decided to call time on a five-year Vodacom Super Rugby deal which hasn’t even begun yet, a resolution which has triggered a series of ramifications. While the Australasians finally rid themselves of ‘the Africans’ from the Republic, the Pacific Islanders and Asian rugby might finally get a look in at real rugby.

The ‘dumped’ South Africans are now free to consider a northern hemisphere rugby option they have mulled over for almost 10 years by joining the Pro14.

While the format of the proposed Pro14 takes in all kinds of permutations – a Pro18 featuring all six SA franchises and a Pro18 with five SA franchises (minus the Southern Kings) and Georgia were mentioned – the prevailing idea seems to be that of a Pro16 with just the Super Rugby franchises and neither the Cheetahs nor the Kings.

That would unfairly leave the Cheetahs, who have done everything asked of them in Pro14 and have just gone on a shopping spree, including bringing World Cup winners Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar back to enter the winners circle, out in the cold.

But that ousting pales in significance compared to the Siberia in which Argentinian rugby suddenly finds itself. New Zealand’s decision to go it alone with the now toothless Aussies may have been read to mean they were only divorcing themselves from SA, but the separation includes Argentina as well.

The robust and progressively skilful Jaguares may have acquitted themselves well in Super Rugby since joining the fray four years ago to the point of making last year’s final, but none of the other teams in the competition liked the arduous travel to their backyard, or their hostile fans.

But just as they were gearing themselves up for a push to win the whole thing this year, the Kiwis’ decision, hastened by Covid-19 pulled the rug from under them. It’s a resolution that’s likely to take Argentinian rugby back a good 10 years.

Thanks to the uncertainty, the Jaguares have been all but gutted as a team, their coach and players being picked off one by one by European teams. The sad thing is that the European clubs aren’t even paying top dollar for what is essentially world-class talent, what with Covid-19 and their desperation making it easy to contract them at cut price.

While having most of your players play overseas seems to work in soccer, for some reason that approach has never really translated into a successful formula in rugby.

And with Sanzaar keen to see the Rugby Championship continue, not having spent the preceding months playing in Super Rugby will return them to cannon fodder status, instead of the plucky side which could be relied on to bloody the noses of the Springboks and the Aussies on the days on which they dropped their guard.

The position in which Argentina suddenly finds itself is ironic, given World Rugby’s stated intent to grow the game after last year’s outrageously successful World Cup in Japan, a second-tier nation.

Argentina was proof of the sustainable growth that can come from being included in a strong competition. Now they have gone back to being a country that can only hope to do well in World Cups.

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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