PREVIEW-Rugby-Three become four as Pumas step up to big stage

Tom Bartlett
August 15, 2012

LONDON, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Argentina's much ignored national

rugby team finally get their wish this weekend after the best

part of a decade of lobbying, pleading and negotiating to join

the sport's elite in regular competition.

The Pumas join the southern hemisphere's expanded

Tri-Nations with South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in the

inaugural Rugby Championship and the global governing body

expects them to be competitive from their first game against the

Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday.

"Not compete (for) the result (to win) but compete very

well... compete to challenge the result at the end of the game,"

International Rugby Board (IRB) president Bernard Lapasset told

Reuters during the Olympic Games when asked of his expectations

of the Pumas's performances.

"That is important that they can deliver the best rugby

possible for the Argentina team."

Argentina have been lobbying since 2005 for more regular

test matches against top tier nations after they surprised Clive

Woodward's British and Lions in a 25-25 draw in Cardiff.

Their third-place finish at the 2007 World Cup forced the

IRB's hand with the southern hemisphere teams agreeing to expand

the Tri-Nations on the proviso the Pumas fielded a full strength

side and worked to develop a domestic professional competition.

"It's a fantastic achievement for the quality of the players

in Argentina, for the quality of the work delivered by the

Argentina rugby union," Lapasset added.

"We support(ed) Argentina to do the job, we secured the

process with a new format of the constitution in the Argentina

Rugby Union to be professional, to be more involved in the

quality of the work delivered.

"Now its done and we shall see the result of the work on the



There will be very little mystery surrounding South Africa

when they meet the Pumas as coach Heyneke Meyer has been very

open about the style of play he wants the Springboks to execute.

Big, strong ball-carrying forwards will be expected to gain

ascendancy in matches before a tactical kicking game is adopted

to pin their opponents in their own territory.

Meyer will hope that the series victory over England in June

provides the catalyst for a successful tilt at the Rugby

Championship title but question marks remain about the make-up

of his team, especially the form shown by flyhalf Morne Steyn.

Steyn, at his best, is a deadly-accurate goalkicker and a

master tactician, but he was someway short of his best against

England while his Super Rugby form was also patchy.

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has defended Steyn saying

that the pivot showed what he was capable of in the tests

against England.

"I don't agree that Morne was out of form against England at

all. I thought his general play was very good," De Villiers


"What let him down was his kicking at goal. He wasn't as

good as he usually is in that department and people have very

high expectations of him. So that brought people down on his

back and it counted against him.

"But I thought his decision-making was excellent and quite a

few of the tries we scored were down to him."


Australia coach Robbie Deans will be under the most pressure

with local media reports suggesting if his Wallabies side did

not defend the title, or at least regain the Bledisloe Cup from

New Zealand, his five-year tenure would be over.

Deans's contract runs until after the Lions tour of

Australia in 2013 and while his team beat Six Nations champions

Wales in their June internationals, he is still struggling to

find a competitive forward pack.

Deans was forced to ask veteran lock Nathan Sharpe to

postpone his planned retirement until after the competition,

while 36-year-old number eight Radike Samo was also named in the


His multi-talented backline has also been beset by injuries

this year and there are question marks over who will play in the

pivotal flyhalf role.

The mercurial Quade Cooper is still battling back to full

fitness following a serious knee injury at last year's World

Cup, where his confidence was also dented when he was targeted

by the world champion All Blacks in a semi-final loss.

Kurtley Beale shone in the position for the Melbourne Rebels

when he moved there from his regular fullback slot during the

Super Rugby season, while Berrick Barnes is more controlled than

both but has head injury issues.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will need to temper his

rebuilding programme ahead of the 2015 World Cup to appease the

national expectation of winning every match, bringing in just

one new cap in tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina.

(Additional reporting by Jason Humphries in Cape Town and Rex

Gowar in London; Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John