The picking of overseas-based players is one of the more oft-discussed topics in rugby. From the Steffon Armitage ‘exceptional circumstances’ saga in England to the Welsh leaving Rhys Webb in the cold, it is rare rugby survives even a month without at least one nation’s rules examined and alternatives suggested by the media. Australia amended their policy ahead of the 2015 World Cup and it paid dividends; the involvement of Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell were crucial in the Wallabies’ run the final.
Argentina must pick Europe-based players
Next to alter their stance on the matter might be Argentina. Los Pumas currently refuse to pick players plying their trade outside of the South American country. However, it is rumoured that from March those playing in Europe will be picked once more. This is a good thing: Argentina must pick Europe-based players if they wish to have more success.
The existing rules
The current policy was brought in at the beginning of 2016. Head Coach Daniel Hourcade announced the change in the Autumn of 2014 due to concerns over the great proportion of Argentinian internationals not playing in their home country. In 2013, 90% of the national squad played in Europe. Yet it was hard to convince them to stay – the Argentinian league was of relatively low quality and pay. However 2016 saw the introduction of the Jaguares into Super Rugby and the allure of playing in Argentina became much greater. Several players have since moved back to Argentina to secure international selection.
The 2015 World Cup was the last we saw of a good Argentina side. Los Pumas’ charge to the semi-finals was one of the stories of that tournament, and many felt they could begin to contend for the Rugby Championship on a regular basis on the back of it. They had a young squad committed to high-tempo rugby. The continuity brought about by the Jaguares being a de-facto national team squad would surely help Argentina build a top-tier international team, with the team training together all year.
It has not gone as planned. The Jaguares have had limited success in Super Rugby, and consequently many players lack confidence. Argentina’s recent international showings have been poor too often. The team slipped to tenth in the World Rugby Rankings after the 2017 Rugby Championship. It is easy to see why the board is considering a move away from the current policy.
Abundance of talent in Europe
There are plenty of Argentinians currently not being picked who could help the national team. Some are promising, while others would provide vital leadership. Juan Figallo and Ramiro Herrera would be one of the world’s premier tighthead tandems were they able to be picked. Juan Imhoff established himself as one of the best wingers in the world; Racing have certainly benefited from his quality in recent years. The Facundo Isa-shaped hole has not been adequately filled since the number eight moved to France at the beginning of 2017. Santiago Cordero is rumoured to be moving on to pastures new in Europe, too, perhaps with Leicester. These are star names the team clearly cannot do without.
To be successful internationally squad depth is crucial. The first choice 15 must be supplanted by a strong bench. Injuries will occur, and thus Argentina needs as many quality performers as possible. Juan Pablo Socino would offer a different dynamic to the existing inside centre options. His brother Santiago has impressed at Newcastle this year, and would be an able successor and deputy for Agustin Creevy. Facundo Bosch would add depth at hooker, too, and namesake Marcelo’s experience, solidity and nous would be an asset in the thirteen jersey. Either the classy Benjamin Urdapilletta or the promising Patricio Fernandez would be excellent support to Nicolas Sanchez at out-half.
Aiding development and depth
Picking Europe-based players would help young talent emerge. Older players could move to Europe safe knowing they have an international future. In their place, youngsters would be afforded more opportunities with the Jaguares in Super Rugby. This will greatly aid their development, and improve the depth of the pool of players.
There are already examples of this, in Argentina and elsewhere. Emiliano Boffelli emerged as a rising star on the wing in 2017, his strong all-round game and raw athleticism complemented by his ability to slot long-range kicks at goal. Had Juan Imhoff been available for selection he would likely have had a stranglehold on the eleven jersey at both club and international level, and Boffelli may have been confined to the bench. Similarly, Scottish rugby has benefitted from some of it’s better players playing elsewhere: younger Scots get plenty of gametime with Edinburgh and Glasgow but the likes of Richie Gray and Greig Laidlaw can still be picked and contribute to the Scottish national team.
Argentina must start picking Europe-based players again, and it should lead to more success in the short and long-term.
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