Planet Rugby

Pichot's joy at Pumas' accession

16th September 2009 10:14

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Gus Pichot arms raised

Agustin Pichot: Years of work come to fruition

On Monday came the news the rugby world had hoped for since long before Argentina smashed France at the last Rugby World Cup to take third place.

Finally, at last, and about bloody time. SANZAR's ring-fences have lifted, Argentina will - conditionally for now - be in the Tri-Nations from 2012 after years of talks, discussions, pleadings and bargainings.

Former scrum-half and captain Agustin Pichot ended up as the man who pushed the deal over the finish line, having been outspoken down the years for the country's need to be given some form of competition additional to the usual June and November Tests.

As well as finishing third in the world in 2007 after laying hosts France to waste twice as well as Ireland, the Pumas still sit sixth in the world rankings, ahead of England, ahead of Wales, ahead of Scotland.

Planet Rugby caught up with Pichot as he briefly basked in the glory of perhaps his country's most significant rugby achievement in the professional era.

"We have been working for two years with the Argentinean Rugby Union (UAR) as I am part of the high performance committee," he recounted.

"It turned out that I was part of the group that presented this after 2007. After so much effort, after so much work, it was fabulous. It was a great joy because it has cost us a lot."

Pichot recorded a TV advertisement last year based on the wish that Argentina's national team enter the Tri-Nations.

In the ad, Pichot stands in front of the IRB headquarters in downtown Dublin asking for support to make the three-team championship a four-team tournament. It was broadcast in Argentina only.

"It was a kind of request to the IRB," said Pichot.

"The first part: getting the invitation, is reaching an end. Now we have to finish up the work we started."

The UAR has been on the campaign trail for over a decade. There had been talk about Six Nations involvement, but even the Pumas could probably see there was no room for an extra couple of weeks of fixtures in a disgustingly bloated calendar.

So the Argentinean interest moved to the Southern championship. Even though the first plans started in the mid 2000's, they will only bear fruit in 2012. In Pichot's opinion, this was the right time to do it.

"We were in the right timeframe because we knew the TV contracts were only going to be discussed now," stated Pichot.

"It takes time to get those things in order."

What will also take time to get in order is where the playing staff will be based, as players will not be able to play in Europe and compete in the Southern Hemisphere international season.

The Tri-Nations members have made a pledge to ensure that Argentina's finest are inducted into the 15 teams in the competition by the start of Argentina's membership, although it is not clear how this pledge sits with the franchises.

But there will certainly be a few conflicts, not least for the stars earning megabucks at France's rich clubs, who may end up choosing between international glory and further nest-feathering.

"We talked about the strategy of moving players from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere," said Pichot.

"There is a proposal, if everything goes OK, that Argentina has a team in Super Rugby in 2015, if everything else goes well."

Pumas assistant coach Fabian Turnes considered the news as a recognition to the Argentinean rugby.

"We knew that everything was on its way but we didn't expect such a quick resolution," commented Turnes.

"Now the technical staff has the commitment, chance and responsibility to work hard to reach 2012 at the very best possible level, considering the 2011 World Cup that will be prior to the first Four Nations.

"This gives a big strong push to our rugby."

Lack of competition - perceived as the biggest hinderance to the Pumas' development for years won't be an problem for the Pumas in three years' time.

"The Pumas currently play just five or six matches per year and that's not enough," continued Turnes.

"Playing six Tri-Nations level matches more, together with the June and November tests gives a number of matches good enough to improve and especially to sustain all the work done by PLADAR [Argentina's domestic plan to train the best players at professional standards] and other things."

Argentina's top player Juan Martin Hernandez moved from Paris's Stade Français in France to Durban's Natal Sharks in South Africa after the French 2008/09 season ended.

The fly-half started a journey that many fellow countryman will probably follow in the next coming years.

"The good thing is that there is a new door open for our players which is not just the European one," said Turnes.

"Many players will consider continuing in the Southern Hemisphere and there they won't have calendar problems when the competition begins in 2012.

"It's good for the local players or the ones who are in Europe who can change their locations in the future where there is a new door that has opened."

By Hernan Alvarez

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