Monday, October 10, 2011

Los Pumas and Argentine rugby

A valiant effort from Argentina was not enough to prevent the All Blacks from progressing to the Semi-Finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

After Los Pumas’ mesmerizing performance at the 2007 World Cup in France, it is fair to say that expectations for this year’s competition were not as high as might have been anticipated.

The national side has not made a great deal of progress during the last four years but after a closely fought opening 9-12 defeat to England, Argentina went on to win its next three group stage games against Romania, Scotland and Georgia to qualify for a quarter final match-up with the hosts, New Zealand.

At the Eden Park stadium in Auckland, Argentina took an early lead after amateur player Leonardo Senatore broke away from the scrum and started a play that led to an opening try from Julio Farias Cabello to put Argentina into a 7-6 lead.

And that is perhaps one of the most gallant things about Argentine rugby. For though many of the national side’s stars play professionally in Europe, the sport remains an amateur one back home in Argentina.

Rugby Union was brought to Argentina in the mid 1800s by the British, who were in Argentina pursuing business interests, primarily in the railway industry. The first match is recorded as having taken place in 1873.

Though it has never developed such massive popular support as football, the sport is one which is still enjoyed all over the country, particularly in and around Buenos Aires where despite remaining an amateur sport, stadiums at clubs like S.I.C and C.A.S.I in San Isidro can get quite full on game days, especially when those two particular clubs meet for their heated derby.

It has to be said however, that Rugby has somewhat of a middle class reputation and nearly all the clubs of the Unión de Rugby de Buenos Aires and their players are located in the wealthy northern suburbs of Gran Buenos Aires. It is not a sport which is generally played in state schools which means that it is only those children who attend private, usually English/Spanish bilingual schools, who are exposed to the game.

When the national side, nicknamed Los Pumas, plays on the world stage however, Argentines all over the country get caught up in the hype, especially after the massive effort at the 2007 World Cup when Argentina beat the hosts France twice and made the semi-finals; going on to reach third in the IRB World Rankings by March the following year; results which have meant that as of 2012 Argentina will participate in the expanded format of the Southern Hemisphere’s three Nations by joining Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the four nations competition.

Argentine captain Felipe Contepomi
Despite the success however rugby remains an amateur sport in Argentina and the players who wish to make the sport their profession are forced to move abroad. Of the 30 man squad that went to New Zealand for this year’s World Cup, twenty-five play in Europe; nineteen in France and six in England.


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