The Rugby Championship
Pumas' 'passion' adds new dimension to southern hemisphere battle
October 11, 2012
Argentina's successful entrance onto the Rugby Championship stage has been hailed by SANZAR boss Greg Peters © Getty Images
SANZAR boss Greg Peters has heaped praise on Rugby Championship debutants Argentina and hailed the 'new dimension' they brought to the latest battle for southern hemisphere supremacy.
The Pumas realised a long-harboured dream by going head-to-head with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and while they may have failed to notch an historic first victory, they certainly made an impression both on and off the field.
"We have been absolutely delighted with Argentina coming into the Rugby Championship for the first time this year," enthused Peters. "They have lived up to everything we hoped they would do in terms of being competitive and showcased the Rugby Championship and Argentina in fantastic style. They brought a new dimension to it in the way the games are presented and the passion of their fans added a new dimension which is just what we hoped it would do."
Those fans, starved for so long of an annual Tier 1 competition where they could witness their side tackle the best in the world, did not limit their affection to the Pumas. "To get sell out crowds for the three games was an amazing achievement in year one for what is a football-mad country," added Peters. "Even more stunning were the viewing numbers that ESPN pulled in for that territory that came very close to what we would expect to get out of South Africa. There were really big numbers, particularly for the All Blacks game, and the surprising thing for us was that they were following the other games as well. The fans have bought into it big time which is a credit to all the work that Agustin Pichot, the UAR and many others in the country have put in to get them to this stage."
The addition of Argentina to an already gruelling match and travel schedule provided a headache or two for the SANZAR partners while the 'isolated' incidents that saw fans shine laser pointers at players were another unwanted distraction. But Peters insists the positives far outweighed the negatives. "They have been glowing in their tributes," Peters said of the feedback he had received from the Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks. "It is a unique country. The All Blacks had to travel for about an hour to get to the venue but they were accompanied by about 28 police motorcycles and a helicopter and they pulled out all the stops.
"The other teams were overwhelmed by the response of the public to them coming to the country. South Africa drew about 1,500 people to a training run in Mendoza so it is clear the public took to them. Any concerns that anyone might have had were unfounded because they turned it on for us."
Argentina's endeavour on the field was equally notable and was rewarded with a draw against the Boks and two narrow defeats to the Wallabies but all three of those side were left in the wake of an All Blacks side that claimed a clean sweep of six victories to add the Rugby Championship silverware to the Bledisloe Cup, the Freedom Cup and more importantly the World Cup.
"It is an amazing achievement," added Peters. "And now I understand that they are challenging Lithuania's record of most consecutive Test match wins - whether they get that or not it remains to be seen in the next few weeks. They have come out of the World Cup as champions and have continued to play in a champion's style and full credit to the management team and the players who have not let their standards drop in any shape or form."
Argentina fans cheer on their side during their clash with Australia in Rosario © Getty Images
But Peters reserved special praise for the Wallabies who claimed runners-up spot in the Championship having weathered an injury plague that demanded that they use 38 players in their 10 Tests to date this year.
"A lot of people have commented on Australia and their team," Peters said of the widespread criticism of Robbie Deans' side and their spirit. "But I think we are best served to remember their high injury toll and their difficult and challenging year. The way that that group has stepped up during the season with all the injuries is a credit to their working environment, the team management and the players involved.
"All four teams had their challenges but Australia were particularly badly hit with the injuries and I think you will struggle to recall any international team that has ever had to combat that number of injuries."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.