Loose Pass: Pumas, a devalued competition and Fiji

Date published: July 17 2019

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Argentina in particular, the Rugby Championship in general and Fiji in development…

Shifting up a level

While the weeks are fallow in July and the big stories about rugby going are ones about social media in England and muggings in Johannesburg, Loose Pass is forced to pick through many a headline to find a debating point, and this week’s came from the lips of Marcelo Bosch.

Bosch reckons that the success of the Jaguares in Super Rugby will be reflected in the Rugby Championship. We’re not so sure. History does not bode well for a matchday squad of 30 that features 20-plus players from the same team.

Granted, there’s not much of a choice if rugby is to progress in Argentina. A second team from there in the course of time is absolutely critical though.

International rugby is different. The intensity is higher, the calibre of opponent higher, the experience opposing you deeper, the margin for error tighter. Drawing teams almost exclusively from one club, or provincial team often ends up with those teams trying to replicate what they do to succeed at club level. Invariably, they discover that international opponents are not so obliging when it comes to the gaps and strategic errors, nor are there the weak spots that clubs might be concealing.

Bosch was right to say that the Jaguares have developed. They’ve found different ways to win, developed a closing game, developed a more aggressive defence and found a level of belligerence that had hitherto been absent. But that’s in Super Rugby. International rugby demands a different level of belligerence and accuracy.

It will take longer to develop this, especially the accuracy under the pressure, while some players may simply find they cannot do what they do in Super Rugby at international level – and when they do, it will be their great test as to whether they can react accordingly. For team-mates it will also be a test of how they react to the surprise of the occasional Test-level lapse by Super-level star players. It’s remarkable how one broken link can shatter a whole chain.

It’s been a good season for the Jaguares, and it bodes well for Argentinean rugby. But that will not necessarily translate to success for the Pumas. Beware – and hopefully, a second Argentinean team is in the pipeline.

High-calibre warm-ups

That all said, it’ll be hard to define success during this Rugby Championship. Australia and South Africa have both openly confessed to experimenting. New Zealand’s form of experimentation often involves replacing a load of players who could be first choice with a whole host of others who could be first choice, but if there’s rafts of changes, you know people are being given a chance.

Either way, this year’s version is significantly devalued by the squeeze on playing time caused by expanded Super Rugby, the lack of June Tests and the looming World Cup. Ostensibly, it’s just a glorified warm-up.

World Cup dark horses

Meanwhile, Wales’ potential for another Pacific Island nightmare in Pool D was increased last weekend as Fiji put in a superb performance to down the Maori All Blacks.

The return fixture this weekend will be eagerly anticipated, as will the mouth-watering Pacific Nations Cup clash against Samoa in Suva on August 10.

But in what is clearly the most open World Cup of all time, Fiji’s development points to yet another ‘Pool of Death’, alongside that one with England, France, Argentina and Tonga – and Australia may yet be the team given a World Cup upset.

Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan