I remember sitting in the Bok change room at halftime of a match against Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2005. We were down 20-16.
I told each of the players to look at the guy sitting next to them on their left and right and I said that the reason I wanted them to do that was so that they would never forget the names of the Bok players that lost against Argentina for the first time.
We ended up winning the second half 18-3 and extended South Africa’s unbeaten run against the Pumas.
In 2012, the Boks failed to beat Argentina for the first time and they suffered their first loss in the Los Pumas rivalry in 2015. This year, the Jaguares are Super Rugby’s SA Conference champions.
I can’t say it’s come as a surprise, because rugby values breed success. My son enjoys Superbru and he won his pool by backing the Jaguares in every game.
It’s great for rugby in Argentina and for the Pumas that, through the Jaguares, they’re getting the publicity and experience of playing under pressure in knockout games on the big stage.
That will have a massive impact on the Rugby World Cup because, just a few months away from Japan 2019, the core of the Argentina squad has been instrumental in getting the Jaguares to the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time and now hosting a semi-final.
People have said it’s unfair because the Jaguares are an international side. I don’t agree with that because when the Crusaders, Blues and Brumbies were dominating Super Rugby, the majority of their squads were also international players. Historically, the dominant teams have the most international players.
That was the case in 2007 when many of the Bok players who went to the World Cup came from the Super Rugby final between the Sharks and Bulls. It helped us massively because we knew we had players who had performed at that high level.
South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup squad was full of guys that had either played for Transvaal in the Super 10 finals of 1993 and 1995, or the 1994 final for Natal.
This situation would have been exactly what Argentina were aiming for when they first joined SANZAAR.
A couple of World Cups ago they were begging for an opportunity to join existing competitions because their domestic program was limited to amateur club rugby. In 10 years, the Pumas have gone from fielding club guys to having their players contest a Super Rugby semi-final.
At the 2007 Rugby World Cup, 27 players in the Pumas squad were playing their rugby in France. That means they were based there, benefiting from the conditioning and coaching at those French clubs. They finished third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup and beat France twice.
It wasn’t too long ago when no Argentine side had ever beaten a South African team. They used to be the epitome of amateur rugby in the old days. I was with the Junior Boks in Argentina for the 1999 world championships and, as a warm up, we played a club called San Patricio.
We won 75-14 and their points came from two pushover tries. They celebrated those two tries deep into the night because they were so chuffed they’d scored against South Africa.
In those days, we could probably have beaten Argentina with some of our provincial sides.
The Pampas were inserted into the Vodacom Cup in 2010 and won three of seven matches. The following season they beat the Blue Bulls in the final with players like Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo, Tomas Cubelli and Agustin Creevy, players who have since emerged as world-class talents.
But Argentina put an end to picking overseas-based players a few years ago and Creevy left Montpellier to go home and play for the Jaguares.
They’ve made some tough calls to strengthen their domestic game, and now they’re starting to reap the rewards.
Argentina have won two of the last five Tests against the Boks and the Jaguares have this season beaten the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers, Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs, and Brumbies.
And just to show how effective their model is, they’re getting those results from a senior side that draws from a talent pool of junior players, the best of whom took 40 points at home against the Junior Boks in last week’s bronze final. Our U20s played their U20s in Argentina and smashed them.
Is there a chance that, in five years, those players will represent Argentina and beat the Boks? The answer should be no. And if it is yes, the question is why?