Rugby: Argentinian passion really starts at home

By Frankie Deges

When passion is mentioned, many argue Argentines are the kings. Photo / Getty
When passion is mentioned, many argue Argentines are the kings. Photo / Getty

After travelling the world - to South Africa, back to Argentina then to New Zealand and Australia - the Pumas are pleased to be at home for the final two weeks of the Rugby Championship.

Today's game will be the biggest in the country in quite some time. Regardless of the outcome, one thing that will definitely have come through is the passion of the crowd that, in fact, imitates the courage and heart the team displays on the field.

"I remember playing against Argentina in my last test in 1985 in Buenos Aires and the crowds jumped and sang throughout the game," recalls former All Black first five Wayne Smith in Argentina with Dave Rennie sharing their vast rugby knowledge with more than 300 local coaches through Rugby Forum. "In 2006, when with the All Blacks, we were in a glassed box and missed the noise."

He did enjoy the Pumas experience in Wellington last year. "Going to the Pumas versus Scotland game as a fan was a great experience. The colour, the singing ...

the jumping!"

And that is what home games, exponentially multiplied, is what awaits the All Blacks and the Wallabies next week in Rosario.

To understand why the rugby crowds are so loud, looking at domestic soccer will give an instant clue. Fortunately, the oval-ball cousin needs not worry about crowd control, which is a massive issue in soccer.

"Not only that they support us all the time, they are also very knowledgeable about rugby and the challenges the team faces," says Juan Martin Hernandez, the linchpin of the Pumas. "For us, to come back and play in front of our family, friends and fans is very good."

There is a campaign on national television that when the All Blacks do the haka, spectators should embrace whomever is next to them. "As the Pumas do," says the ad.

The club scene in Argentina is important. While it underpins the whole rugby fabric, it has also been one stone stopping the development of a professional structure.

When the Pumas had a rare Saturday off last week, most if not all, were to be found at their clubs or watching their clubs play. It is one club for life in most cases, even if they have to ply their trade in Europe.

Rodrigo Roncero, who will retire from all rugby next week after a long and prolific career, says: "I will return to Deportiva Francesa, as that is where I grew up, where my friends are, where I feel comfortable. Not as a player or a coach, but it is my club."

A second division club that produced him and Hernandez, they - as well as every other club - opens up when their prodigal sons return.

Take another case. "For us, having Gonzalo Camacho at the club even in the short periods of time he is in the country is incredible. He is one of us and shares all the knowledge he has gained with coaches, the medical staff and players," explains Florencio Arizio, director of rugby of the ancient Buenos Aires Cricket and Rugby Club. "I've seen him sign autographs for an hour and he does it with a smile." Three more Camachos play at BACRC.

Camacho is not alone in this. It happens with every player. So, when they run onto the pitch wearing a Pumas jersey, there is a real love for the player and the team. There is a real sense of community. With that level of support, it is easy to understand why Camacho doesn't cave despite only being 1.73m and 83kg.

"Playing at home is a world of difference to us," says Camacho, now at Exeter in England's Premiership.

When passion is mentioned, many argue Argentines are the kings. Maybe in Argentina, the mix of enjoyment and analysis is the right one; it helps the team and it makes for a much more enjoyable atmosphere.

What this inaugural Rugby Championship has done is take the Pumas game to a new level. And the love affair with the team has gone there as well. The All Blacks will have seldom played in a more intimidating atmosphere. But they will love the experience.

- Herald on Sunday

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