In Argentina’s last four matches, they have conceded a grand total of 174 points. Their most recent was Saturday’s 73-13 drubbing by South Africa as they started their second season in the Rugby Championship. Last year, they finished bottom of the table without winning a game and after this recent decimation, many are betting on them to do the same again.
So what is to be done?
One of the answers seems to be the expansion of the Super Rugby format. Talks are already ongoing to decide what will happen to the competition once the broadcasting rights deal ends in 2016. It is thought that Australia and New Zealand would form an Australasian conference, with the possible inclusion of a team from Japan at some point (although that has merely been mooted at this stage). That would see the five teams from each nation play each other twice, and the five sides from across the Tasman once adding up to thirteen matches.
The remaining South African sides (including the Kings and the Lions who are part of an extremely unpopular promotion-relegation struggle) will also form their own competition with the addition of at least one team from Argentina, before both conferences came together in a six or eight-team finals series. This would sate the need to appease the tensions in South Africa while also giving Argentina a platform for their domestic rugby.
SANZAR are also pushing for the June internationals to be pushed back a month so that the playoffs aren’t interrupted. Apparently all parties involved seem to agree on the need to include teams from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Player welfare seems to be the main consideration as domestic and international rugby continue to intertwine, but the move would be also be popular as it means an increased amount of derbies and higher gate-takings. For this to be effective and for Argentina to improve in the Rugby Championship, their players need to be playing at the highest level within their own country.
Out of the 23 players involved in last Saturday’s game, only six ply their trade in Argentina, with the rest playing in France or England, and due to the amount of injuries in the squad their lack of strength in depth was clear to see. The fact that most of them currently play in Europe, whose season hasn’t yet begun, means the majority of the Argentinians looked incredibly rusty.
Hopefully, this means that the majority of players would come back to Argentina so as to increase their international chances, and this can only be a good thing for the country; domestic players will play and train more often with teammates of a higher standard, competition for places will increase, popularity within Argentina will grow when they see clubs playing at a level higher than the current domestic leagues. Even though South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have been playing high-level rugby for a lot longer, you can still see that when international players play alongside or against their teammates week in, week out, their country’s international ability improves.
At the moment, South Africa seem to be the nation pushing SANZAR to change the format due to their insistence on having six teams in the competition, and Argentina need to get behind them so as to make sure that they become involved in Super Rugby.
SANZAR Chief Executive Greg Peters has confirmed that negotiations are being held with regards to restructuring Super Rugby but has stated that a solution is still some way off.
“The challenge is with a limited number of weeks in the year, how do you create a competition that has integrity in its structure, keeps everyone involved and satisfies the needs of the three main countries?” he said.
“Argentina have made no secret of their aspiration to be part of Super Rugby and we are looking at ways where we can accommodate them and we are working towards that. We are in the process of making that decision with the three partner unions. SANZAR is a joint venture and as such it is very much like a marriage and so there will need to be some compromise along the way to at least partly satisfy the strategic imperative of the three unions,” said Peters.
One problem for Argentina is deciding which club is going to play in the new Super Rugby format. The main domestic competition in Argentina at the moment is the Campeonato Nacional de Clubes which involves 16 teams. The teams are split into four different zones and play each other once before the top two teams from each zone qualify for the quarter finals.
The winner of this tournament could qualify for Super Rugby in 2016, with the winner of the tournament thereafter playing the Super Rugby allocated team, in an almost promotion-relegation structure (although we’ve seen the tensions that can create in South Africa). Obviously change isn’t going to happen overnight, and there is plenty to be worked out logistically, but if Argentina want to thrive like they did after the 2007 World Cup, something needs to be done soon.
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images