The first rugby union match in Argentina was played in 1873, the game having been brought to South America by the British. Irish Jesuits also brought the game to Argentina during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1899, four clubs in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, got together to form the River Plate Rugby Football Union. This body, one of the oldest rugby unions in the world, later became known as the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR), which became a member of the International Rugby Board (IRB) only after being invited to the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987. Although rugby went professional in the mid 1990s, the domestic competition in Argentina has largely remained amateur. That has ensured large numbers of Argentinians playing overseas, particularly in European competitions, though these players are still eligible for the national team, and make up a large amount of the side.
The Campeonato Argentino is contested by representative teams of the 24 unions that exist within the UAR. It is divided into two competitions, the 8-team Zona Campeonato and the 16-team Zona Ascenso. The winner of the Zona Ascenso earns a place in the following years' Zona Campeonato, replacing the last-placed team of the latter competition.
Argentina is often talked about as joining Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the Super 14, possibly as two provinces. Following the hosting of the 2011 Rugby World Cup to New Zealand, who Argentina voted for, rugby figures within Argentina claimed that New Zealand could be helping out the country more, rather than just giving them an All Blacks test (which was actually arranged prior to the 2011 result). Some Argentines were under the impression that New Zealand should be helping them gain entry into Southern Hemisphere competitions, ala Super 14 and the Tri Nations Series. Allegedly, the New Zealand Rugby Union pointed to them not having "box office appeal" for their current non-involvement in the competitions. NZRU chief executive Chris Moller, saying that there was no agreement between the nations, did however offer the UAR advice on how to improve its domestic competition and agreed to see All Black camp specialists to provide coaching in Buenos Aires when the All Blacks play the Pumas in June of 2006.
In the wake of Argentina's series win over in the 2006 mid-year Tests, and realising that the Tri Nations would apparently be a closed shop until at least 2009, Pumas captain Agustín Pichot publicly urged that Argentina be added to Europe's Six Nations Championship. In an interview with the Western Mail of Cardiff, he pointed out that all of the starting 15 that defeated Wales would play the 2006-07 season in Europe. Pichot added,
We, as a group of players, would be prepared to play our home games in Europe if we were able to join the Six Nations. I beg you to let us take part in it. What
The Sunday Times of London reported in February 2007 that the IRB was brokering a deal with SANZAR, the body that organises the Tri Nations, to admit Los Pumas to the competition as early as 2008. The story noted that logistical issues, specifically the distance between Argentina and Europe plus fixture congestion in Northern Hemisphere rugby, caused the Six Nations to balk at admitting Argentina. The IRB was apparently convinced that the Tri Nations was the proper place for a Southern Hemisphere team, and reportedly found South Africa strongly supporting the move and Australia not opposed. The Sunday Times indicated that the biggest stumbling block could be the UAR itself, "some of whose members are deeply attached to amateurism." Eventually, the IRB admitted its attempt to get the Pumas into a major competition would be unsuccessful until at least 2010, when the key media contract between SANZAR and News Corporation expires. An IRB spokesman cited fixture congestion in the Southern Hemisphere and the lack of a professional structure in Argentina as additional reasons for the demise of a potential deal.
In November 2007, in the wake of the Pumas' third-place finish in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the team's future status was a key topic of discussion at an IRB conference on the future worldwide growth of the sport. The decisions made at the conference regarding Los Pumas were:
- Starting in 2008, the Pumas will play more annual Tests, increasing from the previous six Tests per year to nine by 2010.
- By 2010, the team will play four Tests in the June Test window, three in November, and two during the Six Nations window in February and March.
- Between 2008 and 2012, Argentina will develop a professional structure within the country, with the goal of having the majority of Argentine professionals playing at home. Sometime around 2012, Los Pumas will then supposedly be "fully integrated into the Southern top-flight Rugby playing structure" (read "Tri Nations").
However, NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew subsequently expressed doubts that a professional domestic competition in Argentina would be sufficiently viable within the following 10 years to retain elite players in South America, despite all the good intentions and funding of the IRB. In December 2007 the 23 provincial delegates at an Extraordinary Meeting of the UAR voted unanimously to keep their domestic league amateur, although the Pumas selection pool would be centrally contracted as professionals to the UAR. This decision was almost instantly assailed by Pichot, who told The Daily Telegraph of London,It is unbelievable what is going on at the moment. The Argentinian directors change their minds every day, and in those conditions it is difficult to get anything done. It is a disgrace.
Rugby enjoys widespread popularity in Argentina, most especially in the Greater Buenos Aires urban area, which boasts more than eighty rugby clubs, and Tucumán Province, where rugby has a larger following than football.
While rugby in Argentina is still largely amateur, there are many professional players. Most important Argentine players emigrate to Europe (mainly to England and France) where they play professionally. Probably the best known players are Hugo Porta (played during the 1970s); past Pumas captain Agustín Pichot; current captain Felipe Contepomi and his teammate Juan Martín Hernández, both of whom made the five-man shortlist for the IRB International Player of the Year award in 2007; former player Marcelo Loffreda, who coached the Pumas to third place in the 2007 Rugby World Cup before leaving to take up the head coaching job at English club power Leicester Tigers; and former player and current Pumas head coach Santiago Phelan.
National teamThe national team are nicknamed los Pumas, and wear blue and white jerseys - they are considered a top tier nation by the IRB, though they are currently the only tier one team that does not compete in annual competition with other tier one nations (see Tri Nations (rugby union) and Six Nations Championship). However, as noted above, this may possibly change around 2012, with Argentina fully integrated into the Tri Nations structure.
Argentina played their first international on June 12, 1910, against a touring British Isles, losing 28 points to three. Argentina also competed at the first ever Rugby World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. Grouped with the All Blacks, Fiji and Italy, Argentina won their game against the Italians, but finished at the bottom of their pool on points difference. Subsequent World Cups saw similar results, in the 1999 tournament however, Argentina finished second in their pool and made it to the quarter finals. Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada was also the top scorer of the tournament. The 2003 Rugby World Cup saw them finish third in pool A. The Nations Cup is a tournament involving Argentina A, and was first held in 2006.
In recent years Argentina have proven themselves capable of scaring and more than occasionally defeating traditional rugby giants. For example, since November 2004, Argentina have picked up wins over all the participants in Europe's Six Nations Championship, and also have a narrow loss to the All Blacks, who had to survive a last-second assault on their try line, in the same time frame. Argentina also drew with the British & Irish Lions in 2005 in Cardiff, notable as a 'moral victory' for the Pumas, who were missing over two dozen players and had to resort to dragging players out of retirement to play. Heading into the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Argentina's most recent Six Nations scalps were a pair of wins over an experimental Ireland side and one over Italy in 2007. In the World Cup itself, Argentina beat the host nation, France, in the opening game and again in the bronze final with a convincing 34-10 victory. Out of the last six matches between Argentina and France, all of them in France, Argentina have five wins and a one-point loss. Today (July 2008) Argentina is ranked fourth in the IRB World Rankings.
7s National team
Media coverageESPN Latin America show all of the national team's internationals as well as games from the domestic league. A magazine show is also broadcast on the channel. Additionally many international rugby union competitions and internationals are broadcast by Fox Sports en Latinoamérica, for example, the Super 14 competition between provincial sides from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as South Africa's domestic competition, the Currie Cup, and New Zealand's Air New Zealand Cup. Fox also broadcasts numerous internationals, such as the Tri Nations Series, as well as other tests and tours.