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Pichot: Argentina in Super Rugby is a no brainer

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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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