Such is the near religious fervour for the names Maradona and Messi in Argentina, you could be forgiven for thinking that no other sport is played here apart from futbol (or ‘soccer’ to North Americans and my fellow Australians). After all, this is a country in which its President will personally pick up the phone and call its best player to plead with him not break up with the national team.
For some of us, the beauty of ‘the beautiful game’ is not so readily apparent. In futbol, there are frequently scoreless draws in which highlights from 90 minutes of play can be easily packed into a minute of replays. Then, there is the baffling, culturally accepted practice of diving, ie faking an injury or foul in order to win a penalty, resulting in some highly amusing demonstration of terrible acting.
There are other options to experience sports in Argentina if futbol is simply not to your taste. Argentina excels at a number of other sports and has a history of excellence in boxing, polo and rugby, all of which are popular in various parts of the country and/or segment of society. Rugby especially has been a matter of national pride in recent years, with the national side performing exceedingly well at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
For the uninitiated, there are three types of rugby:
1. The original (and best) version
2. Rugby Union; the streamlined ‘rock ‘em sock ‘em robots’, high intensity, but less tactical cousin
3. And then there’s the Harlem Globetrotters freestyle version, Rugby Sevens.
In Argentina, Rugby Union is the most widely played. AND it get’s more complicated…
I won’t lie, Rugby Union is not easy. It took me the entirety of high school to learn all of its rules, and still I am baffled by referee’s decision on a regular basis. Okay, that may not be the best way to sell the game to you, but stay with me. Rugby Union, at its best, is a combination of brains and brawn.
The complexity of the game is really because rugby is a contest made up of several different types of mini contests all happening within eighty minutes of play. Rugby is like an epic war movie in this way. The comparison between game and war may seem hackneyed to some, but it really is the most apt comparison. Witness how the two sides of gargantuan, warrior-like men line up on a field, facing one another in their tribal colours, charging full-steam at one another, literally trying to occupy territory. It is positively Braveheart-esque.
Within each team specialist players engage fiercely in each a series of mini battles – each brutally physical and cerebrally tactical at the same time – the sum of which is to allow the team to score the most amount of points and ‘win the war’.There are the contests between brutally-built ‘forwards’, in which a pack of eight men against another eight, each ‘pack’ weighing around nine hundred kilograms, crashing and pushing up against one another like two battering rams. There are contests of aerial kicking, in which the ball is launched into the stratosphere, spiraling fifty meters or more across field like a rocket. Or the ball is launched near-vertically up and drops like a bomb, and the players must race towards one another, leaping into the air, risking heavy collision in order to gain possession of the ball.
Finally, there are the primal ‘mano y mano’ athletic confrontation between individual players carrying the ball and the man attempting to stop him. The tackle in rugby is the ultimate expression of the physical nature of the sport. These confrontations are staggering, awe-inspiring and adrenaline inducing. For all the elements of the game, the contest boils down to this question – Who is faster, stronger, more skillful or more determined?
The smooth, often poetic, beautiful and total linking of all those separate parts will culminate in a Try, in which the ball is carried into enemy territory and planted, much like a touchdown. Seen in totality, a game of rugby union can be an epic, part chess, part battle. A war game without weapons. And unlike the very distant cousin of rugby, American Football, all of this happens with very little stoppage time. A truly dynamic sport.
Los Pumas Rugby
Los Pumas, the nickname of the Argentine national team, had a very strong showing in the recent 2015 Rugby World Cup, in which they reached the semi-finals, placing fourth overall and star player Nicolas Sanchez scoring the most points of any player in the entire tournament. Los Pumas are currently ranked fifth in the world and have made a name for themselves in international rugby as live underdogs who play an exciting and crowd-pleasing style of rugby – win or lose, their games are full of expansive running, passing and risk-taking play.
In their most recent showing, Los Pumas played two matches against previous three-time world cup finalists France, upsetting the French in the first game and losing the second. They are showing they deserve their high-ranking in the sport. Tickets are affordably priced and may be purchased on either TuEntrada.com or Tickettek.com (depending on who has the rights for ticket sales) when they are playing in Argentina.
The most exciting regional league for Rugby Union in the world is the Super Rugby competition, which up until recently, has only included domestic teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, the three giants in the sport. It would be the equivalent of the UEFA Cup tournament for rugby. Perhaps the most exciting development for Argentinean rugby (up until recent years, an amateur sport in the country) is the inclusion of a newly formed team from Buenos Aires, the Jaguares, into the competition. This means that talented Argentine players can play in the best and toughest competition in the world on a regular basis, which bodes well for the future of the national side.
Again, tickets are very affordable and may be purchased through TuEntrada. If you have the time I highly recommend going to see a game!