Newspaper article International New York Times

Argentina Pulled Further into Southern Heavyweights' Orbit ; Country to Join Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in Super Rugby

Newspaper article International New York Times

Argentina Pulled Further into Southern Heavyweights' Orbit ; Country to Join Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in Super Rugby

Article excerpt

The South American country, which joined the Rugby Championship a few years ago, will get its own Super Rugby franchise, starting in 2016.

Starting in 2016, Argentina will get what it wanted: its own Super Rugby franchise, and a tighter bond with the heavyweight rugby nations in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sanzar, the organization that runs the Rugby Championship competition and Super Rugby, announced last Thursday that it would be expanding from 15 to 17 teams, adding its first in South America. South Africa has also been guaranteed a sixth team, likely to be the Southern Kings, who were involved in Super Rugby in 2013 but lost out to the Lions for inclusion this year.

Currently there are five franchises each in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, the countries that make up Sanzar.

The expansion of Super Rugby into Argentina follows its admittance into the well-established Tri-Nations competition, which was relabeled the Rugby Championship when the Pumas joined the annual Sanzar tournament in 2012.

The former Pumas halfback Agustin Pichot was the driving force behind getting Argentina into the Rugby Championship and has been in the forefront of negotiations for Super Rugby inclusion, also.

The Sanzar chief Greg Peters said it was the logical step to take.

"It's a natural extension from their involvement in the Rugby Championship," he said. "It makes logical strategic sense to include them in both of the Sanzar competitions."

The exact format of the new competition has yet to be confirmed, although a "preferred model" has been submitted for approval to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

The expansion has not been universally accepted, however. Some coaches and players, who already travel huge distances for games, are worried that adding Argentina to the mix will affect their workload and performance.

But the expansion will certainly open up greater opportunities for Argentina's players and raise the standard of rugby played in that country -- and played by the Pumas.

Argentina's players now have to leave their home country to secure professional contracts. The majority play in France and Britain. Only a few have played Super Rugby.

Two Pumas, Tomas Leonardi and Nicolas Vergallo, played for the Southern Kings last year, while in 2009 Juan Martin Hernandez signed with the Sharks, another South African franchise, but a back injury kept him out of Super Rugby in 2010.

This year, Pumas lock Manuel Carizza is playing for the Stormers in South Africa, while Matias Diaz is the first Argentinean to play in New Zealand after signing a deal with the Highlanders.

"A professional franchise in Argentina would be a dream come true for many of us -- mainly from the point of view of the success of the national team," said Carizza, who has played 41 tests for Argentina and spent nine years in France at the Top 14 clubs Biarritz and Racing Metro before moving to South Africa. "Personally, I am very happy here and still want to establish myself in the Stormers team and Super Rugby. But, with the bigger picture in mind, a Super Rugby franchise back home would mean a lot for our rugby. …

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