With a disappointing start to their Rugby World Cup qualification, could giving Jaguares a home be the boost Spanish rugby needs?
A Home for Jaguares?
There have been many victims to Covid and in the World of Rugby, one of them was the Jaguares. Despite only playing their first season in 2016, the Jaguares were an ambitious project to effectively keep hold of Argentina’s national players and test them against the top-quality opposition of Super Rugby. The aim was to allow the Argentinan team to grow together and in doing so, maintain the momentum that had seen Los Pumas become a strong international force.
It was a slow start at first for the Jaguares, winning only four of their games in their first season but with healthy crowds and a clear appetite for the project, it would only take the Jaguares four years to find themselves all the way to the final in 2019. Smashing the Brumbies in front of a packed 30,000 plus José Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires, Super Rugby had a wonderful success story. Argentina finishing third in their 2019 Rugby World Cup group (that contained England and France) was not a disaster. Opening a whole new continent up, healthy attendances were in place and despite losing the 2019 Super Rugby final, the future looked bright for Jaguares.
A Different World
Everyone knows what came next, Covid swept through and the world came to a shuddering halt. Since then, South African sides swapped a declining Super Rugby for the ease of the same time zone of the Pro 14 and the commercial opportunities that would bring. Suddenly the Jaguares’ distance from competitors, once tolerable as a glamourous location, had become a massive liability. Argentina’s national side’s first-ever win against New Zealand in 2020 seemed a fitting swansong to close this chapter in Argentina’s rugby history. But as recently as February, talks were underway to bring Jaguares to Spain and continue life in the PRO 14/16.
Pro’s and Con’s
On the one hand, there certainly is no shortage of infrastructure in Spain to host them. Whether it be the Capital or the Basque Country, the stadiums and facilities are there. A trip to Bilbao or Madrid is certainly going to be a favourite for away fans and sponsors. Having the exposure and awareness of elite Rugby Union in Spain could, if capitalised on, increase income and funding for the Division de Honor (more on which next week). Spain has already shown it can draw, with the Top 14 final in 2016 selling out Camp Nou. So potentially using the Jaguares strategically by playing their home games not in one fixed location but across Spain helps the game in Spain. Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona. Could this be enough to make each game an event to compensate for a lack of traditional home fans?
However, the reason South African sides were welcomed by the PRO clubs was one reason and one reason only. Money. The increase in revenue for the Unions involved meant it was a no-brainer (despite the recent news that South African teams won’t be allowed into Europe this year) There is no such market in Spain that currently exists. Whose spot would they take? Would Italy be willing to give up one of their two clubs in the PRO competition? And of course, no one wants to see the sight of half-empty stadiums so a location (or locations) would have to be chosen very carefully to ensure it was a success in a country that is obsessed with Football, notwithstanding the fact that the Spanish element of Jaguares will mean nothing to a large section of Basques and Catalans. These are just a few of the problems.
Perhaps the most important factor in this being a non-starter though, are the players themselves. Looking at the landing points of the former Jaguares, it reads as elite players getting paid elite money. A few went to Super Rugby but a significant majority hopped it to pick up a good wedge in either the Premiership or France.
Combined with the new TV for the French Top 14 and top Argentinians would have two choices. Sit in Bilbao in the Pro 14, having to travel from Scotland to South Africa. Or, hop over the border and pick up twice the cash. Who would blame any Argentinian for getting paid?
No, a home for Jaguares now is where it is, playing in a South American competition and doing their bit to build the code in an area of the world where the population is booming. Their best players will find themselves, much like their footballing counterparts, heading to France for their payday before returning to the national side. It doesn’t harm the football team and maybe Argentinian rugby is strong enough now not to need to keep its best players all under one roof.
Jaguares last elite home game was a glorious win in front of a packed crowd of passionate Argentinians and, perhaps, that is the best place to leave it.
Edward can be found on Twitter @HomelessEd3
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