While some former Australian Test players bemoan the Jaguares’ success in this year’s Super Rugby competition, the truth is that Argentina’s contenders should be celebrated – and South African coaches can learn a lot from how they’ve overcome adversity to be on the brink of winning the SA Conference.
Let’s be honest, it is a bit embarrassing to see the Jaguares – a team most South Africans don’t consider on par with local franchises – at the top of the conference heading into Round 17.
It would take a catastrophe for them not to clinch the conference, helped as much by the schizophrenia of local franchises as the Jaguares’ ability to overcome adversity.
The blame-game is popular in SA Rugby these days. The mass exodus of players chasing the rand, pound and yen has decimated the normal deep playing depth that we’ve had for years. But rather than adapting to the circumstances, local coaches have found excuses and shrugged their shoulders rather than getting their hands dirty.
Contrast this to Argentina’s only team, who have been decimated by overseas call-ups for years. At one point they had their entire Test team playing in Europe, until the lure of Super Rugby allowed them to formulate a programme to bring through young talent.
Just last season we were all talking about how the team rises and falls on the form of Nicholas Sanchez and how he has been instrumental in their play.
Well Sanchez was signed by Stade Francais and the team has grown this season.
The same goes for the blistering pace of Santiago Cordero or the bulk of Facundo Issa – both standouts the previous year who disappeared to Europe. The Jaguares didn’t complain, they simply got on with the job.
While the South African belief in the depth has seen local administrators chase more teams in more competitions while ignoring the exodus of players, Argentina has done the opposite. They have – with the limited playing resources they have – done like Scotland and Ireland and focused on the principle that less is more.
They’ve concentrated on quality over quantity and they’ve focused on keeping a few experienced individuals in the team rather than trying to spread their quality over the length of six franchises.
And then there is the coaching. The Jaguares have gone through three coaches in four years, and improved every season. Contrast that to the results and changes in SA franchises and the difference couldn’t be more stark.
By doggedly sticking to a set playing style, getting their hands dirty in coaching and being resolute in their focus, they have rotated players more than any SA franchise and have continued to develop in the process. On their tour of Australia and New Zealand in recent weeks, all 28 players received almost the same game time, and they won three out of four matches, being unlucky not to beat the Highlanders in their opening game.
How many SA franchises rotate without being forced to?
In this context, just think about one example – how much game-time has the likes of Manie Libbok been given at 10 this season? Ditto for Curwin Bosch and Damian Willemse? Every time the argument comes up, there is an excuse. Bosch cannot get more than 60 minutes a game at 10 before the Sharks self-destruct with poor substitutions.
How many really believe in the squad system and “processes” they talk about every week?
Add to that the fact that this year the Jaguares have broken their “duck” in SA, winning in Pretoria and Durban, and it is clear that touring isn’t an issue for their team, even though they travel more than all the SA franchises. They have made Buenos Aires a virtual no-go zone for SA opposition, with just the Lions winning there in the last two seasons. And they play a brand of rugby that is no-nonsense, physical and attacking. Yes all those words can exist in the same sentence.
South African rugby may have the riches but they are slowly being stolen away overseas. Spreading the remaining depth too thin and a mental block on travelling has hurt franchises locally. And to be honest, the coaching depth has fallen behind what Argentina have done week in and out.
If we were honest with ourselves we would have a national indaba and, with a smaller contracting system, match it up with the best coaching structures we can. We would celebrate Argentina’s rise and learn from the team that we tend to look down on. We would get our hands dirty and coach, not just wait for the next young talent to come through the system while losing every decent player to Europe. After all, the talent that we write off locally tends to look superhuman overseas.
Argentina has overtaken SA with their limited resources. They’ve focused it well and used it to their advantage. They have only one team, but they have made sure everything is geared towards success. And in the process they have brought through a number of youngsters.
All this talk of them being a Test team disregards the fact that they have developed more depth than any other union bar the All Blacks. And now that they are challenging the dominance of Australian and South African rugby, they have been criticised. Just this season think of the emergence of the likes of Santiago Carreras, Domingo Miotti, Lucio Sordoni and Sebastian Cancelliere to name a few.
The sad reality is that the Jaguares have used the system well. They’ve won nine matches this year and have won two in South Africa and three on the road in the Antipodes. They are the epitome of a well-coached team with momentum and self-belief.
It’s time South African coaches buried their pride and learnt from their Argentinian rivals, rather than bemoan the poor state of affairs in our franchises.