Investec Rugby Championship Fan Interview
The well overdue introduction of Argentina to create the Investec Rugby Championship has breathed new life into international rugby below the equator. Now stretching over three continents, the Rugby Championship gives the Southern heavyweights the competition they have long been craving; the battle to decide the true Kings of the Southern Hemisphere.
BackingBlack’s Reece Lightning talked to fans from each nation about the introduction of Argentina, and their take on rugby in our corner of the world. Thanks to Wallabies fan Mark Feather of Melbourne, Springboks fan Deon Botha of Auckland, All Blacks fan Michael Mason of Auckland, and Pumas fan Adrian Melgar of Auckland, for taking the time to share their thoughts with BackingBlack.
[BB] Obviously the introduction of Argentina has spiced up the former Investec Tri Nations, what excites you most about their introduction into the competition?
[Wallabies Fan] "It’s completely freshened up the competition; a much needed shot in the arm. The Pumas have been a real surprise packet, with a bit less predictability than our lads, New Zealand and South Africa.”
[Springboks Fan] “Argentina in - Fantastic! At last a chance for the lesser-known team of world rugby to show the rest of the world how to play with passion. It’s great to see a nation with a small base of players box well above their weight. I look forward to them showing the other nations how the art of strong scrummaging can be an advantage for a team.”
[All Blacks Fan] “I think it is very exciting. I like the new dimension it brings for the All Blacks. The Argentinians play a similar style of rugby to the French - passionate and aggressive. If it helps us to better combat this style of rugby, then great! Also, as a fan I think we can learn something from the passion their fans show.”
[Pumas Fan] “The most important thing for me is that our rugby will really grow now. The best way to improve is playing with the best in the world. This will also help to get the people from my country more involved with rugby, because everything is about soccer.”
[BB] While Argentinian rugby is hugely respected, it is also somewhat a bit of a mystery to rugby fans, what do you think of when you think about Argentinian rugby?
[Wallabies Fan] “A few things come to mind for me; they have plenty of flair, loads of innovation, and at the same time big tough forwards. They remind me of the French a bit.”
[Springboks Fan] “I think about raw talent and passion. They may lose a match but will always win respect and admiration for their passion and never say die attitude. I also think of the best scrum-half that I have ever seen, Agustin Pichot; and the best first five ever to grace the game, Hugo Porta, who single-handedly broke the Boks down!”
[All Blacks Fan] “I think aggressive, Northern Hemisphere rugby. Most of their players play in France’s Top 14 and I think you can see clearly the influence it has had on them. They have huge forwards who play with absolutely everything they have. They are a very passionate team with, in my opinion, a very bright future. While their backs are pretty handy, they’ll have their work cut out to match the skills of the Wallabies and All Blacks backlines.”
[BB] And a chance for the Pumas fan to respond. How would you describe Argentinian rugby to a rugby fan who doesn't know much about the Pumas?
[Pumas Fan] “The rugby in Argentina it is amateur, so we really play for fun, for your rugby club or your friends. Some of the Pumas have a normal job so they have to make a big effort to go to training after their jobs. They play for the Pumas’ jersey, they have a big heart, and that’s why we call them the Pumas, they never give up. It doesn’t matter if they have a lion in front of them - like the All Blacks - they give their all in battle ‘til the last minute. Technically speaking, we have a strong defense but we need to improve in our attack and in our fitness. Every match we have lost power after 60 minutes and this when the other teams take advantage. Above all, the Pumas have to be convinced that they can win!”
[BB] What has your highlight of the inaugural Investec Rugby Championship been so far?
[Wallabies Fan] “We haven’t seen the razzle-dazzle this year we’ve come expect from the competition, but it has still been exciting. For me though, it would have to be the Pumas. It was great to see Argentina seriously taking it to the All Blacks... just like France.”
[Springboks Fan] “My highlight so far has been the inability of the Australians to unleash their incredible backline on attack.”
[All Blacks Fan] “Keeping the Wallabies scoreless is an enormous feat, not to mention what the score may have been if we had finished our 50-50 phases of play. This led to the retention of the Bledisloe Cup, which I think is hugely important and would have to be the highlight for me. Having said that, if we beat the Springboks in South Africa next weekend, that too will be a highlight.”
[Pumas Fan] “Easy. The match against the Springboks at home. We were so close to winning that match and beating the Springboks for the first time!”
[BB] What do you love most about Southern Hemisphere rugby and why do you believe it has been so strong traditionally?
[Wallabies Fan] “I love our brand of rugby because our sides score loads of tries without the boring stop-start Northern Hemisphere Six Nations style of rugby (excluding France!).”
[Springboks Fan] “Southern Hemisphere rugby is much faster than Northern Hemisphere rugby and the players therefore have more of a chance to show their individual skills. The Southern Hemisphere teams also seem to have an ability to change and adapt with the changes in rugby and thus stay ahead. I think this also suggests we have the best forward-thinking coaches.”
[All Blacks Fan] “I think it all comes down to grassroots rugby. More specifically, Australia and New Zealand have kids playing union or league from the age of four. I think that’s why we have such consistency in depth, and skills that are hard to match by any nation. South Africa play a different style, but they too have a strong rugby culture. More specifically to New Zealand, I see the increased celebration of school boy rugby as a strong advantage. We may see this become more popular as it continues to garner more media attention.”
[Pumas Fan] “I think is the best competition in the world, has the best players in the world and is where you really feel and live rugby. New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have always been strong competition for each other because rugby is the main sport, it is a relationship between hate and love and no one wants to lose to the other team. Just like us with Brazil in football; it’s so exciting, it is pure competition!”
[BB] When your side faces the All Blacks, what match-ups excite you the most and why?
[Wallabies Fan] “Pocock up against McCaw has excited me in recent times. But it may be time for Richie to retire I think.”
[Springboks Fan] “When the Boks face the All Blacks - that is a massive face off, from position 1 to 22. I particularly always look forward to whoever faces off against Richie McCaw. He just takes on all comers and reigns supreme. The midfield is always of interest, but for me it is always the loose trios and how they complement each other.”
[Pumas Fan] “I loved the game against the All Blacks in Wellington; I liked the passion and authority that the two captains showed on the field. Both captains knew how to keep their teams focused throughout the best and worst moments of the match.”
[BB] And a slightly different angle for an All Blacks fan response. What one single thing do you most love about the All Blacks?
[All Blacks Fan] “I love the greats. I think we are very, very lucky to have had a consistent flow of great players in the black jersey. When you lose someone like Kaino, Israel Dagg pops up. Somehow we always manage to have about half a dozen of the best players in the world in their position. Without McCaw, Carter, Reid and Dagg I think the All Blacks would really struggle, similarly to what we saw in 2009.”
[BB] Without sounding one-eyed, the All Blacks are obviously having a good run at the moment, what will it take to dethrone them from their number one World Ranking?
[Wallabies Fan] “Their time will come, form comes in cycles and no team will be on top forever. Well at least, that's what I hope because I am sick to death of the All Blacks beating the Wallabies.”
[Springboks Fan] “The only way to dethrone the All Blacks is to hit them hard and fast and try to make them play catch up rugby, while starving them of ball, and not kicking the ball back to them. They have always been strong but slightly vulnerable under pressure, so keep them under pressure for eighty minutes and bruise them. Any opposition must also keep playing as consistently as the All Blacks do if they wish to beat them. South Africa needs to pick an established team, stick with it, and have more than one game plan. Adapt or die.”
[Pumas Fan] “Currently it is difficult to dethrone the All Blacks from the number one position. To do this, though, any team in the world will need the defense, coupled with an organised and fast attack that the All Blacks possess to have a chance. The only team that could dethrone this current All Blacks side are the All Blacks of 1987 [laughs].”
[BB] And lastly, a closing comment from the All Blacks fan. What will it take from the All Blacks to maintain their number one World Ranking?
[All Blacks Fan] “While we have lost some of our most experienced players this year, we are still consistently beating the top teams in the world. I like Steve Hansen’s consistency in selection, similar to 2010, but only when we finally gel will I be confident that we can be as formidable as the 2010-11 All Blacks.”