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
"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