- 15 Oct 07, 03:40 PM
And while Puma-mania grips Buenos Aires, elsewhere in the rugby world drums will be banged, tables will be thumped and the demand will bellow out, "Something Must Be Done".
Argentina, like the other success stories of this World Cup (Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and to a lesser extent Georgia) do not play enough meaningful rugby between tournaments. The Pumas have over 400 professional players plying their trade around the world and their success at this World Cup, over host-nation France on a memorable opening day, and over Ireland and Scotland, not only confirmed their ranking at number four in the world order, but also reinforced the notion that they would be a worthy addition to either the Tri-Nations or the Six Nations.
But which competition, and why? There is a theory that the Tri-Nations, involving just Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in a seemingly endless and monochromatic series of matches, could do with an injection of new blood.
But there are already huge distances and multiple changes of time-zones involved and to add yet more - the flight from Sydney to Buenos Aires, for instance, takes 16 hours - would multiply already significant logistical and player-welfare problems, especially as European-based players - the majority of the Argentina team - would have to fly from yet another corner of the globe.
There is a seductive argument that would acknowledge the fact that most of the top Argentine players are to be found in Europe and therefore add the Pumas to the Six Nations, with home matches played in front of hitherto unexploited rugby markets in Madrid, Barcelona or even, following a kite flown with some gusto by the Belgian Rugby Union, Brussels.
But that would add at least one extra week to the Six (or presumably Seven) Nations, and, in creating a lop-sided tournament with one inactive team per round of matches, increase still further the time which clubs are denied the services of their international players.
Some clubs employ Argentine players precisely because they are available all season; they would hardly be likely to bid a fond farewell to their current stars for a large chunk of the season. They’d also be far less likely to employ Argentine players in the future.
And that of course would mean that Argentina teams will inevitably become less competitive. This current crop of Pumas have become great players through honing their skills in the Guinness Premiership in England and Le Championnat in France.
Without exposure to European club rugby, the Argentine national side would be markedly inferior. With it, it is so prey to market forces that it becomes overloaded in some areas, and dangerously weak in others. For instance, outside half Federico Todeschini, architect of the Pumas' victory over England last autumn, can’t get a place because Juan Martin Hernandez, one of the best players on the planet, and Felipe Contepomi are ahead of him, while the cupboard at scrum-half and hooker, where Gus Pichot and Mario Ledesma have no serious rivals and more worryingly no serious replacements, is bare.
The problem is that the game in Argentina is comparatively weak. It remains resolutely amateur, with the consequence that any player of talent and ambition leaves as soon as he gets offered a contract. Without the best players, the game fails to attract major sponsors. Without major sponsors it fails to develop the structure and competition to ensure an ongoing supply of top-class Pumas.
Without the structure and the competition in the future, the success of this generation of Pumas will come to be regarded as a glorious one-off, never to be forgotten but never to be repeated.
The IRB will earn no plaudits for it, but, painful as it may be, it has to channel resources to ensure Argentina first gets it right at home, before offering a world stage to the Pumas.
Alastair Hignell is a former England rugby international who commentates on rugby union for Radio 5 Live. He is covering England at the World Cup. 5 Live's full broadcast schedule is here.