OpinionWednesday, June 25, 2014
The ‘Puma tradition’ has taken a check
That goal, what a goal, by Lionel Messi against Iran, brought out the loudest of celebrations for so many million suffering over the Argentine performance in front of a television set. The team was not finding the way to beat a side considered a minor nation in the grand world of football. This World Cup, like never before, has showed us that the notion of big and small teams is no longer a fact.
In that sense, in rugby there are huge differences between the elite and the rest. As much as in football the best in the world can lose against a much lower-ranked country, this would never happen in the oval-ball code. In fact, the All Blacks, historically the top ranked team in the world, will try to equal the world record of consecutive wins, at the moment at 17. Only in the Rugby World Cup they play against teams considered small; their previous 16 wins have been against top 10 nations.
If they were to play against teams ranked way below them — say a Uruguay, Chile or Spain to name three — it would be so uneven it would be dangerous. Today, Argentina is fighting to stay in that elite. Since the 2007 Rugby World Cup the team has been largely unsuccessful, with few big wins that have resulted in them losing positions in the International Rugby Board world rankings. Today they are ranked 12th.
Friday’s game against Scotland could have pushed them upwards to eighth after a week outside the top 10 due to having lost the series against Ireland. Yet, that game sent them deeper into the rankings; the win that seemed to be forthcoming ended in defeat with a late Scottish comeback. The team lost one position after that hurtful loss.
The position in the ranking, produced weekly by the IRB, shows where the team deserves to be nowadays. Between the start of June 2013 and the closing of the test window in Córdoba, Los Pumas have played 15 test-matches against top teams and only won twice: against Georgia and Italy.
Preparation for the hard Rugby Championship starts later this week in the United States. Once again, the national team will tackle the best three in the world at home and away: first South Africa and then New Zealand and Australia. Having said that the best seldom lose against teams ranked lower than them in rugby, we shouldn’t expect many happy returns in this tournament. The goal will be on performing at a level that can make them and us proud.
There is no doubt that there is hard work behind the team, and players are not holding back. The coaching staff has been in the job for eight months now and as they prepare for the trip to Florida, they are analysing what worked and what went wrong. No one doubts that there is an urgent need for wins.
Reality must be tackled head on: Argentina belongs between the eighth and 12th place. A win this past weekend would have settled them at eighth. They failed and will go into the Rugby Championship at their worst ever ranking. The long and fruitful Puma tradition has taken a reality check. Now is the time to work on recovering that prestige.