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Pichot: Argentina in Super Rugby is a no brainer

Agustin Pichot is lobbying for Argentina to have a Super Rugby team

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Article Published: Friday 23 August 2013|

Former Pumas captain and scrum half Agustin Pichot says that Argentina need to be included in Super Rugby if they are to have any hope of winning the Rugby Championship.

Pichot is now a UAR board member and has close ties with SANZAR bosses after he lobbied to have the Pumas included in the Rugby Championship.

SANZAR are considering further expansion of Super Rugby in 2016 as South Africa have six teams and only five places in their conference.

There is talk of the number of teams being expanded from 15 to 18 in 2016 and scrapping the three geographical conference system for two conferences.

In this 18 team, two conference scenario South Africa and Argentina would make up one pool and Australia and New Zealand would be in the other pool.

However Australia and New Zealand each have five teams so they would have a conference consisting of ten teams leaving eight in the other conference which is hardly ideal.

Further to this if South Africa had six teams and Argentina had one team there would still be space for one more team which would have to come from somewhere.

Argentina would struggle to fill two Super Rugby squads in the space of 18 months when the new term begins in 2016 as many of their current international players are still playing their club game in Europe.

Japan and America have also been linked with a new Super Rugby team but they are Northern Hemisphere nations which would mean enormous travel considerations.

The Pacific Islands have also been linked with a new Super Rugby team too but like Argentina many of their players are either already playing in New Zealand Super Rugby teams or in Europe.

Squad depth for Argentina would also have to be a major consideration as the injury toll from Super Rugby could impact seriously on their Rugby Championship campaigns if a small group of players have to play every round of Super Rugby and then contest the Rugby Championship.

New Zealand for example have five Super Rugby franchises and they will start their fourth choice fly half in the second round of the Rugby Championship due to injuries taking our Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett.

For the time being Pichot is lobbying for Argentina to have one Super Rugby team when the tournament is expanded next as he says if they to develop their players to the level needed for the Rugby Championship they need to playing Super Rugby.

"If you think about it, it's taken a long time for Argentina to catch up with the rest of the world," Pichot told SARugbyMag.

"Even now, we are still not fully professional. We don't have anything like your Currie Cup, we don't have control of our best players, the only thing we have achieved is the opportunity to play six times a year against the three best teams in the world.

"Of course, just being involved doesn't signify progress. That doesn't mean you have arrived as contenders."

"It was important to join an international competition, but what we are missing now is a franchise," said Pichot.

"You need to have your players competing on a weekly basis against the best the southern hemisphere has to offer."

Pichot says that competing in the Rugby Championship is difficult for Argentina as so many of their players play their game in Europe which is a different style of game to the one played in the Southern Hemisphere.

"Those are the challenges. We believe we can add value to this tournament, and we know that it will take time."

"What is the reality at the moment? I think what happened last week at Soccer City should never happen, you should never concede 70 points. But then I don't think that what happened in Mendoza last year (a 16 all draw with South Africa) was a true reflection either.

"Yes, it was a great result for Argentina, but did it really reflect the situation? I don't think so. The reality is there is 20 to 30 points difference between South Africa and Argentina."

Pichot said that while meetings about them being included in Super Rugby are taking place and even though nothing has been decided they are preparing for the green light.

"We will adapt to any format that Sanzar comes up with. We are prepared for anything,"he said.

"If Super Rugby doesn't happen, there's no sense in having Argentina in the Rugby Championship. It's illogical. "

"If Argentina doesn't get the franchise, it will just be six games a year where the top tier compete, and the other players in this country don't have any competition at all."

Pichot said that he is confident that Argentina have the player base and structures to ensure that a Super Rugby side would be a success.

He did however warn that until Argentina have a Super Rugby team their best players will continue to sign foreign contracts as there is nowhere for them to play locally.

'We have the structures," said Pichot. "What is lacking now is the continuity."

"We have the players in the schools, in our academies, in our high-performances centres. They come through, and then they leave to play for a club like Saracens, Leinster, or Toulon."

"What we don't have is the route to professional rugby. We don't have that level. The Pampas have been a success in South Africa playing in the Vodacom Cup. A number of players have benefited from that and have gone on to represent Argentina.

"Unfortunately, Vodacom Cup level is not on a par with Super Rugby. "

"We have plans to compete in the Pacific Nations Cup next year in an attempt to improve our depth, but ultimately, we need the Super Rugby franchise. "

"It's a no-brainer," said Pichot.

New Zealand and Australia have said that they do not want to add any more Super Rugby teams in the forseeable future so South Africa are the only existing nation wanting another team.

At this stage it appears that unless someone else puts in a viable bid for another Super Rugby team or Argentina figure out a way to fill two Super Rugby squads expansion to a Super 18 in 2016 may come a little too soon for the South Americans.

SANZAR are expected to announce the format for the next broadcast agreement which will run from 2016 for five years towards the end of this year.

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