Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Biting the hand that feeds them

Argentinamust leave the dirty tricks behind them, writes Gregor Paul.

Argentina confronted the Springboks with a physical approach in Mendoza. Photo / AFP
Argentina confronted the Springboks with a physical approach in Mendoza. Photo / AFP

It's fortunate for Argentina that their Sanzar partners are prepared to take a long term view in regard to the Pumas' involvement in the Rugby Championship.

After an encouraging debut season, the Pumas are in danger of regressing this year - of not only losing the competitive edge they had in all but one of their games in 2012 but also reconnecting with their darker past - where ill-discipline was seen as a valid means to plug any shortcomings.

By the end of 80 minutes in Hamilton this week, ideally they will be able to hold their heads up and be proud of their effort against the All Blacks. The Pumas can't afford to disintegrate as they did in their opening game against the Springboks. More so, they can't afford to take their bag of unwanted tricks to Waikato Stadium - any more eye-gouging or biting, and their future in the Rugby Championship will be in jeopardy.

Or it least it should be - the three Sanzar nations went out on a considerable limb to accommodate the Pumas, who through No 8 Leonardo Senatore have responded by literally biting the hand that feeds them.

That has to be a one-off, a moment of madness, as by the end of this year, a proposal will be presented by Sanzar to interested broadcast partners that will detail how Super Rugby and the Championship should be structured in 2016.

Argentina, at the moment, feature in that plan; New Zealand, South Africa and Australia want the Pumas to be part of the international offering. Reverting to the old Tri Nations format isn't an option. The collective desire is there to persevere with Argentina, who remain one of the more intriguing propositions in the world game.

The Pumas are more realistic future world champions than say Ireland or Scotland. They have a wealth of rugged, physical mobile men; be it genetics, diet, lifestyle or good fortune, the raw materials are there. More than half the battle in test football is finding players with the required frame to make an impact. Just look at Japan; world leaders in speed, up there in terms of skill and yet destined to be clobbered simply because their players are half the size of everyone else's.

Argentina are a different beast altogether and New Zealand are happy to support them on the basis that the international game can only grow - sustain its existence - if the list of genuine contenders extends beyond five. There's a risk in being so patient. The Pumas' entry came with a financial sacrifice - the three foundation nations having to feed a fourth mouth so to speak out of the existing pot.That pain may not have been fully absorbed yet either - selling out games in New Zealand featuring the Pumas may become a bit of a struggle when the novelty of seeing them wears off.

There is also the concern that when it comes to strike the new broadcast deal - negotiations will begin next year - the numbers might not crunch so effectively with the Pumas taking out more than they put in.

Given then the precarious nature of Argentina's current position and their dependence on the goodwill of their Sanzar partners, they would be well advised to desist with the antics that were on show in Mendoza last week.

Everyone wants them to bring their aggressive, abrasive and physical brand of rugby to the table. No one, though, wants them to mix that up with biting and eye-gouging as they did in their 22-17 loss to the Springboks.

That sort of nonsense may have been the old Pumas - it can't be the new. When they were cast adrift in the first decade-and-a-half of the professional age, it wasn't just the logistical difficulties of not knowing whether they were a more natural fit with the Six Nations or Tri Nations that made them difficult to place.

Their propensity to indulge in unwarranted acts of filth didn't help much either. At the 2003 World Cup, they had two players cited and banned in their pool match against Ireland - Roberto Grau and Mauricio Reggiardo - for eye-gouging. That led to a rather nasty rivalry between the two nations that persists today.

After defeating the Pumas in 2008, Irish lock Doncha O'Callaghan summed up where things were at between the two nations: "There's a fair bit of niggle between Argentina and Ireland. Personally, I don't like them and they'd probably say the same about me."

Argentina can ill-afford similarly strained relations with South Africa, which is why it was utter madness for Senatore to bite Eben Etzebeth - an act for which he has subsequently been banned for nine weeks - and form Pablo Matera to be accused (but exonerated on the grounds of insufficient evidence) of gouging Francois Louw. South Africa is where the money sits in Southern Hemisphere rugby.

There won't be much of a future for the Pumas if the Boks get the overwhelming sense that on future trips to Argentina, it will be probable rather than possible that they will fly a long way to be subjected to a range of despicable, off-the-ball acts.

It's a non-negotiable-the Pumas need to clean up their act; earn a reputation for being something more noble than gougers and biters.

- NZ Herald

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