The Passionate Pumas

by

South America is no more to some, than an exotic land of jungles, mountains and a place for people to disappear off the radar. The continent does offer more than the stereotypical stuff seen on media. Brazil has a rich history in football and was host to the Football World Cup in 2014. Their neighbor and rival, Argentina, also has a rich sporting history in football and since 1999, they are now becoming a rugby powerhouse.

The Argentinian Rugby team are better known as Los Pumas or the Pumas even though the crest incorporates the unions initials and a jaguar. This mistake was apparently made by a member of the press on a 1965 tour of South Africa and the name stuck ever since.

The Argentinian rugby jersey has evolved from white to blue but has remained a light blue and white hooped jersey since 1927. As with all rugby teams, the game was brought across by the British in the late 19th century and in 1899 the famous River Plate Club was formed by the joining of four smaller clubs. In 1910 a British representative side toured Argentina and played an Argentinian side under the name of the River Plate club.

Argentina had always struggled to find opposition for themselves as most of the touring teams were superior and won by considerable margins while other South American countries were too weak and Argentina won easily. This caused some frustration for administrators and players, but they persisted to develop the rugby program.

By the late-60s, the home nations toured independently and it was a watershed moment for Argentinian rugby as they seriously challenged Wales and managed to defeat Scotland at home. They later undertook tours to Africa and come back with 11 victories. The home crowd support had swelled and Argentinian rugby looked to be heading in an upward direction.

In the 70s the Pumas defeated Wales, Australia, England and France and they held the All Blacks to a 13-all draw. This result still resonates with the team to this day. In the 80s, when the inaugural Rugby World Cup was held, Argentina believed that they could make the play off rounds but losses in the pool stages prevented this from happening.

After that time, many player retired or defected to professional rugby league teams. Of course this sudden withdrawal of talent brought the team to its knees and the following rugby world cup campaigns were disappointing, but the nation didn’t give up. The new talent that was coming through was exciting and under-rated.

By the time the 2003 edition of the World Cup came about, they had found some form and were able to defeat France the following year. Now that rugby was professional, players stayed within union and plied their trade in Europe, Africa and Australia.

The 2007 Rugby World Cup saw Argentina gain the respect that they richly deserved. The Pumas went on to defeat France and Ireland in the pool stages, topping that group. They advanced into the semi-finals, eventually being defeated by South Africa. Their third place play-off game was against France and once again, they defeated them. Argentina had made a statement. From this form, they were invited to join the existing Tri-Nations tournament from 2012, which is now known as the Rugby Championship played between Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Argentina are a seriously under rated team who are capable of defeating anyone on the day and have recently defeated Australia while playing at home. Ever since sides began touring Argentina, the games have always been tough. For any touring team, playing against Argentina in Argentina is a massive battle and it’s where Argentina have drawn with South Africa and New Zealand and have defeated Australia.

Their style of play is very passionate and free. They play similar to an on-song French side and are willing to fling the ball around the park. They have always been known to have a strong forward pack which can match set pieces with the best of them and at times, have destroyed so-called better scrums. Just have a watch of South Africa’s games in 2014 when playing in Argentina and you’ll see what immense power is in the Argentina scrum.

The recent players that need a mention would be Felipe Contepomi, Augustin Pichot, Jose Nunez Piossek, Rodrigo Roncero, Patricio Noriega, Mario Ledesmo and the foundation of modern Argentina rugby, Hugo Porta. Porta was the rock on which Argentina became the team that it is today. Well, that’s my opinion. He was active in the team from 1971 to 1990 collecting 58 caps along his way. He played at the fly-half position and was the engineer in the win over Australia and France and a draw with New Zealand. He has scored the second post points for his country and has been awarded numerous accolades for his contributions to rugby in Argentina. He has been inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame and is considered the greatest Argentinian rugby player of all time. Since retiring he has been involved in politics and now helps the structuring of rugby in Argentina.

Even though the Pumas are rated 8th in the world at the moment, don’t be surprised if they win a few games against their pool opponents. They are up against New Zealand, Georgia, Tonga and Namibia in the pool stages and are expected to advance into the play off stages. Keep an eye out for Juan Martinez Lobbe at flanker as he has caused strife for the opposition on many occasions and the powerhouse Marcus Ayerza.

They might not win the World Cup, but they won’t be easy to beat.