Pumas promise overshadowed
Argentina appear to be getting closer and closer to their first win in the Rugby Championship but that promise continues to paper over the need for a long-term strategy to secure the future of the game in the South American country.
The current crop of Pumas, who largely play professionally in Europe, came within two points of their maiden win in a 14-13 defeat to Australia in Perth on Saturday, a week after going down 28-13 to the world champion All Blacks in Hamilton.
Argentina outscored the Wallabies 10-0 in the second half but were unable to add to their score after No 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon had grabbed their only try with 15 minutes to go at Subiaco Oval.
"We are disappointed about the result, we didn't play the first half very well but we did well in the second half," coach Santiago Phelan told reporters in Perth after the match.
"We need to keep on learning and working out how to close the games. We need to keep on learning, working, trying to win games, trying to play the full 80 minutes."
The Pumas struggled to get regular international play for years until their stunning third-placed finish at the 2007 World Cup forced administrators to find them a place at the top table of the game.
The southern hemisphere powerhouses (Sanzar) agreed to expand their Tri-Nations competition from last year, pending some financial guarantees from the International Rugby Board and plans that Argentina would look to establish a professional game.
That has yet to materialise and hopes of it happening are now largely focused on Sanzar's negotiations over the expansion of the provincial Super Rugby tournament in 2016, when a new broadcasting deal will come into force.
Various formats are being kicked about but most observers agree that the inclusion of Argentine teams, or at the very least a large number of their players, is key to the future of the Pumas.
There is also consensus that the current arrangement, where Argentina are often at the mercy of the wealthy and influential European clubs who employ their players, is not sustainable in the long-term.
Pumas coaching consultant Graham Henry, who benefited greatly from New Zealand's strong domestic structure when he was coach of the All Blacks, articulated the point starkly this week.
"The clubs in Europe are starting to get frustrated," the World Cup winning coach told reporters in Perth.
"Last year when Argentina toured Europe, they had test matches against Wales, France, and Ireland, and they had a different team every time because players were only released for one test match by their clubs.
"So it makes it bloody difficult. They haven't got a foundation underneath this team. There's no professional rugby at home.
"After the World Cup in 2015, there's strong talk about extending the Super Rugby competition, and hopefully Argentina will be included.
"I don't know if the money would be as good, but these guys need to be playing in that competition."
For the current Pumas squad, such considerations are largely academic and they will now be concentrating on breaking their Rugby Championship duck in home tests against New Zealand and Australia over the next month.
"We need to be more clinical and think of nothing else but the rugby," skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said in Perth.