Pumas prowl for fresh hunting grounds
The frontrow has no fears either. The great Rodrigo Roncero – Ronan O’Gara will miss him dearly – followed Mario Ledesma out of the Test arena this summer yet a ready-made replacement, honed by the ABC club in Leicester since 2006, is present in Marcos Ayerza. The 29-year-old has already amassed 39 caps.
The UAR made a huge leap this year, to coincide with entry into the Rugby Championship, by centrally contracting 11 home-based players for the first time. They have another 40 amateurs in a High Performance Academy that provides third level scholarship, financial compensation and access to the training facilities across five regional centres of excellence and the national centre in Buenos Aries.
Seven of the 11 centrally contracted players are on the current tour of Europe. Inevitably, they are being picked off, with big backrower Leonardo Senatore off to Toulon next week after two years playing for the Pampas XV in the Vodafone Cup, South Africa’s second tier provincial competition.
“Some young talents are deciding to stay in Argentina, being involved with the Jaguars (Argentina A) in the Nations Cup and the Churchill Cup or the Pampas in the Vodafone Cup,” said Ayerza. “It also means these young guys are training full time at home throughout the year.
“With the Rugby Championship money the union is able to fund these central contracts. That can work, that is sustainable. You can see the young home-based talent playing well. Look at Tomas De la Vega against France last week making 10 tackles in 30 minutes and he has played only six matches this year for the Pampas but he made a difference.”
The scrumhalf-cum-outhalf Martín Landajo is another elevated from the amateur ranks, via the Pampas, into the toughest rugby environment imaginable. He finished off a thrilling try against the All Blacks.
Their established professionals have been gobbled up by the Top 14 for over a decade but that is changing because French clubs no longer see the value of investing in a player who will be on national duty for the important pre-season months and November.
“Maybe it is time to think that the South(ern Hemisphere) is the best opportunity for us,” said Manuel Carizza when asked what he will do after his short term deal with Racing Metro is most likely not renewed when he goes into Puma camp next summer.
Being an Argentinian prop, however, still gets you a contract extension with the best clubs in Europe, as Ayerza confirmed.