Argentina to join Super Rugby ranks

The Pumas’ inclusion in next year’s Rugby Championship could eventually be followed by an Argentinian team making its debut in the Super Rugby tournament.

Argentina will play alongside Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in next year’s inaugural Rugby Championship. Now that the dream has become a reality, there could be further steps taken to ensure Argentinean players receive more exposure to top flight rugby, as top officials are talking about a possible future inclusion in Super Rugby.

‘With time there could be a franchise coming out of this region,’ said Saru deputy president Mark Alexander. ‘If we want to grow the game and we are serious about our partnership with Argentina, this is a new market for us and a growth area.’

South Africa has long been associated with Argentinean rugby, and lobbied strongly for the Pumas’ inclusion in a four-team southern hemisphere showpiece. Before Argentina was included in the Rugby Championship, South Africa had an invitational team, the Pampas XV, compete in the Vodacom Cup, South Africa’s feeder competition to Super Rugby.

‘South Africa adopted an approach about four years ago that we wanted Argentina to be part of this competition and one of our first initiatives was to get them playing in our Vodacom Cup back in our domestic league,’ Alexander said. ‘The Pampas won that competition last season so we work very closely with Argentina, we believe it’s good for the growth of the game to make sure the southern hemisphere has a strong presence in the World Cup.

‘There are a lot of talented players in the Pampas team, a lot of franchises were looking at contracting players, but due to the gentleman’s agreement we have with Argentina we asked our franchises to refrain from contracting the players so they could play as a unit, develop as a unit.

‘But there’s a lot of talent here, a lot of players who are eligible to play in South African franchises. There were 12 players who could be signed by franchises, they’re good players, they’re talented, they are ball players, we’ll work with them.’

A lot’s been done behind the scenes to ensure the best Argentinian players are available for the Rugby Championship, which will take place at the same time as many of Europe’s top club competitions. For an Argentinean outfit to field a competitive team in Super Rugby, they would also need to have the best players at their disposal.

Sanzar president Mike Eagle suggested that Argentina could eventually have their own conference, just as the three existing Sanzar nations had in the Super Rugby competition this year.

‘I know we’ve got complications with the northern clubs in releasing their players, that’s why we would like to integrate their younger players into our southern hemisphere competitions so they can be released like our players are,’ he said.

‘The ultimate goal for Argentina should be really to have their own conference of Super Rugby down here playing in front of their own fans. That’s why we’ve got a conference system and it’s easy to add conferences. You’d actually have your own professional teams down here playing in your own conference as part of the Sanzar competition and then you’d be in charge of the destiny of your own players, you don’t have to go and ask other clubs for their release and that would be a win-win for everybody.

‘I’d like to see Argentina become a part of Sanzar, not just an invited guest, and to go forward to have a professional conference running out of here.’