Boks and Pumas ... good friends

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 08:44
Large eusebio gi azu 630 Large marcelo bosch 630 Large juan p orlandi 630 Large pumas celebrate 630

Go to Argentina when the Springboks are there and see the obvious Argentinian affection for them. Paul Dobson takes a look back in history.

Go to Argentina when the Springboks are there and see the obvious Argentinian affection for them. A little bit of history tells you why this is so. To Argentina rugby, South Africa has been a generous uncle.

The connection started in 1905. It started with that great man Fairy Heatlie, who started playing rugby for the first time when he came to Bishops as an 18-year-old and then played for South Africa the very next year - the youngest forward ever to play for South Africa. He played for South Africa in 1891, 1896 and 1903, a giant of a man - and, captain in 1896 and 1903, he gave South Africa the green jersey which the Springboks still wear. He was earmarked to captain the first South African team to head to the Home Unions, as they did in 1906, but tragedy struck.

Heatlie was the stuff of Greek tragedy. He who rose to great heights came crashing down, his hamartia perhaps greed, perhaps dealing beyond his ability. He was to be arrested when he got to a ship in Table Bay and sailed off to Argentina, where he battled to make ends meet. He was eventually brought back to South Africa, stood trial and was sentenced to two years' hard labour. Sentence served he managed to get back to Argentina where his wife and two sons were. And in Argentina he played rugby. In fact he played till he was 48 when broken ribs forced his 'early' retirement. A great rugby thinker he had his impact on the country's rugby.

In 1910 the first touring team came from Britain to Argentina and they played a Test, Argentina's first Test, and in their team was Barry Heatlie. Having played against the first three such teams to tour South Africa, he played in the first to tour Argentina and his name is on the list of Argentinian internationals - the first South African to play for two countries, as Frank Hellish, Jack Gage, John Allen and Tiaan Strauss did later.

In 1932 a powerful Junior Springbok team, captained by Joe Nykamp, swept through Argentina winning all nine of their matches including two against Argentina. Their manager was the great Paul Roos. After the tour he wrote: "One may express the hope that the day is not far distant when our late hosts will have developed and improved their game sufficiently to become our guests and throw down the gauntlet to the best we can pit against them."

That day is now!

The next contact was after World War II. The Junior Springboks toured - a great side which won both internationals but by small margins. But then came 1965, probably the greatest date in the history of Argentinian rugby, the year the Pumas were born.

In that year the first Argentinian team left the South America to tour abroad and they went to South Africa. To prepare them the South African Rugby Board had sent the innovative Natal coach Izak van Heerden to Argentina, and how the country reveres him. That team, captained by Aitor Otaño became the first to be called the Pumas when a South African journalist mistook the cat on their badge for a puma when really it was a jaguarete. Pumas they have stayed.  They are proud to be Pumas. They left Argentina quietly, became Pumas and beat the Junior Springboks at Ellis Park, for them an incredible achievement, which they celebrated at great length, loath to leave Ellis Park. They changed Argentinian rugby which was now ready to face the world.

The Gazelles (South Africa Under-23) toured and then Argentina beat Wales, Scotland and Ireland in successive years. They drew with England at Twickenham in 1978.

They would have loved to come to South Africa but the politics of the day, expressing universal abhorrence of apartheid, militated against rugby Politics got in the way of contact between Argentina and South Africa but they found a way round that - forming the South American XV, the Jaguars, who toured South Africa in 1980, 1982 and 1984 and playing the Springboks in South America in 1980 when they played the matches in Uruguay and Chile. This was the heyday of the great Hugo Porta, one of rugby football's finest.

And in 1980 the Springboks went off to South America. Barred from Argentina they played two Tests against the Jaguars in Montevideo and Santiago. And in that Springbokm team for the very first time was a black player - the great Errol Tobias.

The Jaguars were players from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Brazil and, in 1984, Spain. But essentially they were Argentinians. You will read that the Pumas have never beaten the Springboks. Technically that is right; morally it was as wrong as wrong can be.

In 1982 the Springboks beat the Jaguars 50-18 in Pretoria but in Bloemfontein Porta scored in all four ways and amassed 21 points as the Jaguars beat the Springboks 21-12. One of those playing for the Jaguars that day was Marcelo Loffreda, later the Pumas' coach, the man largely lauded for the success of the Pumas in recent times. That team of Jaguars was made up entirely of Pumas. The Pumas by any other name....

Politics allowed Argentina and South Africa to meet as Pumas and Springboks on the rugby field in 1992 and the next year off the Springboks went down South America way in mid-summer.

Look at the results and you will see that matches between the two countries have been high-scoring affairs. The Pumas came close in 2000 when eccentric coach Harry Viljoen forbade the Springboks to kick and they came close to losing. But the closest to a Puma victory was in Port Elizabeth in 2003 when a last-minute penalty goal by Louis Koen won the match for the Springboks.

Close rivalry is the keenest, and the Pumas would love to beat the Springboks - only because they love them so. The Springboks are a benchmark in Argentina.