Rugby union in Argentina

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Rugby union in Argentina
Centro estud ingenieria.jpg
Centro de Estudiantes de Ingeniería, the first team formed by Argentine-born players.
Governing body Argentine Rugby Union
National team(s) Argentina
First played1873;148 years ago (1873)
Registered players110,000 (2013)
Club competitions
International competitions

Rugby union in Argentina is a popular team sport. The first rugby match played in the country dates back to 1873, as the game was introduced by the British. The Argentina national team, sometimes referred to as the Pumas, have competed at the Rugby World Cup, and are considered a tier one nation by the sport's governing body, World Rugby.


Governing body

The Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) was formed in 1899 as the "River Plate Rugby Union", 26 years after the first rugby match had been played. It was affiliated to the English Rugby Football Union until 1932. [1]

The union is a member of World Rugby with two seats and three votes on that body's Executive Council. The UAR is one of the oldest rugby unions in the world. The union became a member of the International Rugby Football Board, later known as the International Rugby Board and now as World Rugby, after being invited to the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.


Rugby enjoys widespread popularity in Argentina, most especially in the Greater Buenos Aires urban area, which boasts more than eighty rugby clubs, and Tucumán Province.

While rugby in Argentina is still largely amateur, there are many professional players. Prior to the country's entry into Super Rugby in 2016, most national team members played professionally in Europe, mainly in England and France. Today, most members of the national team play on the country's Super Rugby side, the Jaguares.


Rosario A.C. squad of 1884, the oldest photo of a rugby team in Argentina Rosario ath rugby 1884.jpg
Rosario A.C. squad of 1884, the oldest photo of a rugby team in Argentina

Rugby union began to be played in Argentina in 1873, exclusively by the resident British people to begin with. [2] [3] The first rugby union match in Argentina was played that same year in the Buenos Aires Cricket Club Ground, located in Palermo neighbourhood, where the Galileo Galilei planetarium is located today. Both teams (called "Bancos" and "Ciudad" for the occasion) were formed by members of the BACC and they play a mix between football and rugby. [4]

One of the matches played in the first Torneo de la URBA championship in 1899, as covered by La Nacion newspaper Lomas Belgrano 1899.jpg
One of the matches played in the first Torneo de la URBA championship in 1899, as covered by La Nación newspaper

On 29 June 1886, it is recorded that Buenos Aires F.C. (predecessor of current Buenos Aires Cricket & Rugby Club) and Rosario A.C. played the first inter-clubs match in Plaza Jewell, Rosario, Santa Fe. [4] [5] The line-ups were: Rosario: C.E. Baines, W. Graham, A. Musgrove, A. Williamson, R.C. Baines (captain), A. Dickenson, Boland, Geary, E.D. Graham, Hall, Hanckel, Parry, Smyth, Topping, Towse. Buenos Aires: G.E. Gunson, F.J. Bennett, W.R. S. Baikie (captain), J.C. Hutchings, J. Nisbet, A. H. Scott, W.P. Drabble, J. Earnshaw, A. Lace, R. Barton, J. Paterson, A. Hughes, J.P. Simpson, R.W. Anderson, W.H. Stuart. The match was won by Rosario by 3-0 with a try scored by A. Dickenson. [6]

Early rugby was not immune to political problems either. An 1890 game in Buenos Aires resulted in both teams, and all 2,500 spectators being arrested. [7] National president Juárez Celman was particularly paranoid after the Revolution of the Park in the city earlier in the year, and the police had suspected that the match was in fact a political meeting. [7]

In 1899, four clubs from Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, Belgrano, Flores [8] and Lomas) and one from Rosario (Rosario A.C.) got together to form "The River Plate Rugby Union". [9] That same year the Union organised the first club championship (currently Torneo de la URBA), which was won by Lomas.

Frank Chevallier Boutell, a notable Argentine player of Club Universitario Frankboutel 1926.jpeg
Frank Chevallier Boutell, a notable Argentine player of Club Universitario

This body, one of the oldest rugby unions in the world, later became known as the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR), which became a member of the International Rugby Board (IRB) only after being invited to the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

From the founding date until 1903, the only teams taking part in tournaments had been founded by English natives or their descendants. Only they knew the rules of the game and their families were from the high society. It was only in 1904 when the first team formed by "criollos" made its appearance, named "Centro de Estudiantes de la Facultad de Ingeniería". Some players of that team were the Newbery Brothers, Martín Miguens, Alberto Lagos, Luis Duhau, Mariano Paunero and Germán Dates. [2] [3]

Although rugby went professional in the mid-1990s, the domestic competition in Argentina has largely remained amateur. That has ensured large numbers of Argentines playing overseas, particularly in European competitions, though these players are still eligible for the national team, and make up a large amount of the side.

San Isidro (pictured in 1922) won a record of 13 consecutive titles (1917-30). Casi 1922.jpg
San Isidro (pictured in 1922) won a record of 13 consecutive titles (1917-30).

It was originally dominated by the British community in Argentina, but unlike certain other regions, it became successfully transplanted to the local population. [5] For example, in its early days the River Plate Rugby Union (the ancestor of today's national organisation), had a membership whose surnames portrayed their English and Scottish origins - such as Anderson, Baikie, Bellamy, Brodie, Corry-Smith, Elliot, Jacobs, Leicht, Taylor, Thurn. [5]

Away from Buenos Aires, where the game's background is traditionally somewhat refined, Tucuman is a heartland for the sport, where supporters are passionate, and often burn the opposition's flag on the terraces. [5] This is a region which has provided Argentina with some of its toughest forwards. [5]

One of Argentina's main problems has been geographical isolation, [5] and despite Chile, Uruguay and to a much lesser extent, Brazil playing the game, Argentina towers above them, and has not a reasonable match in its continent. [5] Its first contact outwith the continent was in 1910, when the British and Irish Lions led by J. Raphael toured on Argentina, winning all six matches, scoring 213 points, and conceding a mere 31. [5] [10] The British Lions returned to Argentina in 1927, that time led by David MacMyn, playing 9 matches, 4 of them against the Argentina national team. Other rivals of the Lions during the tour included CA San Isidro, Buenos Aires FC, and Gimnasia y Esgrima de Buenos Aires. The Lions would make a third tour on Argentina in 1936, playing 10 matches. [5]

Other team that toured on Argentina were the Junior Springboks in 1932, that won all eight matches played. [1]

During the post-War period, the French national team toured Argentina in 1954 playing several matches v. local clubs and combined teams and even the Argentine side. A total of 14 matches were played by France in the country, winning all of them.

The national team also turned its sights overseas, touring South Africa in 1965, and despite faring badly there, they made contact with Izak van Heerden, the Natal coaching genius who would revolutionise Argentine rugby in the late 1960s. [5] Van Heerden's coaching was not the only turnaround in Argentina's fortunes at this time, it also saw the emergence of Hugo Porta, who is arguably the greatest Argentine player of all time, and some outstanding packs. [5]

In the 1970s, major Argentine rugby clubs included Rosario A.C., Buenos Aires, Gimnasia y Esgrima de Buenos Aires and both teams from San Isidro, C.A. San Isidro ("CASI"), and San Isidro Club (mostly known for their acronyms, "CASI" and "SIC" respectively). [1]

Argentina has long been seen as the biggest power outside the Six Nations and the Tri Nations; between 1981-90 in four tests, England won only two out of four, and Scotland lost both tests on their 1994 tour. [5]


Club rugby

Argentina is divided into 24 provincial unions which all organise their own provincial club competitions. Since the 1990s, some provincial unions have started organising regional club competitions with neighbouring unions in order to raise the standards of rugby and make their clubs more competitive. An example of this is the Torneo del Litoral, which is organised by the unions of Rosario, Santa Fe and Entre Ríos.

Alumni and Hindu disputing the 2007 Torneo de la URBA final. URBA Finals.jpg
Alumni and Hindú disputing the 2007 Torneo de la URBA final.

Historically, club rugby in Argentina has been dominated by clubs from the powerful Unión de Rugby de Buenos Aires (URBA) and the URBA championship was seen as the strongest club competition in the country. In recent years however, clubs from outside Buenos Aires have closed the gap with URBA clubs. To reflect this the Nacional de Clubes was created in 1993. Originally the competition involved 16 clubs from all over the country but the formula was modified in 2009.

That year a new competition was created, the Torneo del Interior. This competition involves the best ranked clubs from all regional tournaments outside of Buenos Aires. With the creation of this tournament, the Nacional de Clubes was overhauled. From 2009 on, only 4 clubs qualify for the Nacional - instead of 16 - and the competitions starts directly at the semi-finals stage. The 4 clubs qualifying for the Nacional's semi-finals are the two finalists of both the Interior and URBA tournaments, with the URBA winner meeting the Interior runner-up and vice versa. The first winner of the new and improved Nacional de Clubes was Rosario's Duendes Rugby Club, who beat Buenos Aires' Hindú Club in the final.

Representative rugby

The Campeonato Argentino is contested by representative teams of the 24 unions that exist within the UAR. It is divided into two competitions, the 8-team Zona Campeonato and the 16-team Zona Ascenso. The winner of the Zona Ascenso earns a place in the following years' Zona Campeonato, replacing the last-placed team of the latter competition.

International rugby

Argentina had often been linked with joining Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the Super Rugby Union, possibly as two provinces. Following the hosting of the 2011 Rugby World Cup to New Zealand, who Argentina voted for, rugby figures within Argentina claimed that New Zealand could be helping out the country more, rather than just giving them an All Blacks test (which was actually arranged prior to the 2011 result). Some Argentines were under the impression that New Zealand should be helping them gain entry into Southern Hemisphere competitions, ala Super 14 and the Tri Nations Series. Allegedly, the New Zealand Rugby Union pointed to them not having "box office appeal" for their current non-involvement in the competitions. [11] NZRU chief executive Chris Moller, saying that there was no agreement between the nations, did however offer the UAR advice on how to improve its domestic competition and agreed to see All Black camp specialists to provide coaching in Buenos Aires when the All Blacks played the Pumas in June 2006. [11]

Argentina facing England at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Argentina vs England 2011 RWC (1).jpg
Argentina facing England at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

In the wake of Argentina's series win over Wales in the 2006 mid-year Tests, and realising that the Tri Nations would apparently be a closed shop until at least 2009, Pumas captain Agustín Pichot publicly urged that Argentina be added to Europe's Six Nations Championship. In an interview with the Western Mail of Cardiff, he pointed out that all of the starting 15 that defeated Wales would play the 2006-07 season in Europe. Pichot added,

We, as a group of players, would be prepared to play our home games in Europe if we were able to join the Six Nations. I beg you to let us take part in it. What Italy did last season was great for the sport and I'm sure we could do the same. [12]

The Sunday Times of London reported in February 2007 that the IRB was brokering a deal with SANZAR, the body that organises the Tri Nations, to admit Los Pumas to the competition as early as 2008. The story noted that logistical issues, specifically the distance between Argentina and Europe plus fixture congestion in Northern Hemisphere rugby, caused the Six Nations to balk at admitting Argentina. The IRB was apparently convinced that the Tri Nations was the proper place for a Southern Hemisphere team, and reportedly found South Africa strongly supporting the move and Australia not opposed. The Sunday Times indicated that the biggest stumbling block could be the UAR itself, "some of whose members are deeply attached to amateurism." [13] Eventually, the IRB admitted its attempt to get the Pumas into a major competition would be unsuccessful until at least 2010, when the key media contract between SANZAR and News Corporation expires. An IRB spokesman cited fixture congestion in the Southern Hemisphere and the lack of a professional structure in Argentina as additional reasons for the demise of a potential deal. [14]

In November 2007, in the wake of the Pumas' third-place finish in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the team's future status was a key topic of discussion at an IRB conference on the future worldwide growth of the sport. The decisions made at the conference regarding Los Pumas were: [15]

However, NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew subsequently expressed doubts that a professional domestic competition in Argentina would be sufficiently viable within the following 10 years to retain elite players in South America, despite all the good intentions and funding of the IRB. [16] In December 2007 the 23 provincial delegates at an Extraordinary Meeting of the UAR voted unanimously to keep their domestic league amateur, although the Pumas selection pool would be centrally contracted as professionals to the UAR. [17] This decision was almost instantly assailed by Pichot, who told The Daily Telegraph of London,

It is unbelievable what is going on at the moment. The Argentinian directors change their minds every day, and in those conditions it is difficult to get anything done. It is a disgrace. [17]

The UAR, with considerable assistance from the IRB, continued to work towards building a professional structure in the country. Pichot, formerly critical of the UAR, accepted an invitation to join a "High Performance Board" to help the country achieve its ultimate goal of a place in a major international tournament. [18] In September 2009, SANZAR announced that it had issued a provisional invitation to Argentina to join an expanded "Four Nations" tournament starting in 2012. The main condition for Argentine participation is that the UAR can ensure the availability of its top players for the Four Nations; the deal is also dependent on approval from broadcasters and financial considerations. [19] Tew, skeptical of Argentina's ability to develop a professional structure only two years earlier, was impressed with the country's progress in 2009, stating "They have made a huge amount of progress in the past six months ... not long ago they were facing bankruptcy and they have come a long way." [18]

Argentina's increasing engagement with the Tri Nations was further cemented in December 2009, when the South African Rugby Union announced that an Argentine team would join the national developmental competition, the Vodacom Cup, starting in 2010. The team, known as Pampas XV, was initially expected to be based in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, [20] but ultimately found a home in Potchefstroom. Pampas XV won the competition in its second season of 2011.

Also in 2011, the IRB also helped to accommodate Argentina's Four Nations entry by making a major change to its Regulation 9, which governs the release of players for international duty. Before the change, Argentina internationals only had to be released for the June and November Tests, as the Pumas were not in a major hemispheric competition. The new Regulation 9 introduces a new release period, from late August to early October, for all four major Southern Hemisphere powers. SANZAR chief Greg Peters noted at the time that this change would make Argentine internationals less attractive to Northern Hemisphere clubs. [21]

On 14 September 2009, Argentina was formally admitted into the Tri-Nations competition (which will henceforth be renamed The Rugby Championship) from 2012 onwards.

National team

Los Pumas, the national senior team, pictured before a match in 1979. Argentina australia ferro 1979.jpg
Los Pumas, the national senior team, pictured before a match in 1979.

The national team are nicknamed Los Pumas and wear blue and white jerseys. They are considered a top tier nation by World Rugby, and have competed in the Rugby Championship since 2012.

Argentina played their first international on June 12, 1910, against a touring British Isles, losing 28 points to three. Argentina also competed at the first ever Rugby World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. Grouped with the All Blacks, Fiji and Italy, Argentina won their game against the Italians, but finished at the bottom of their pool on points difference. Subsequent World Cups saw similar results, in the 1999 tournament however, Argentina finished second in their pool and made it to the quarter finals. Argentine Gonzalo Quesada was also the top scorer of the tournament. The 2003 Rugby World Cup saw them finish third in pool A. The Nations Cup is a tournament involving the country's "A" national side, now branded as Argentina XV, and was first held in 2006.

In recent years Argentina have proven themselves capable of scaring and more than occasionally defeating traditional rugby giants. As of 2020, they have defeated every Tier 1 rugby nation. Argentina also drew with the British & Irish Lions in 2005 in Cardiff, notable as a 'moral victory' for the Pumas, who were missing over two dozen players and had to resort to dragging players out of retirement to play. Heading into the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Argentina's most recent Six Nations scalps were a pair of wins over an experimental Ireland side and one over Italy in 2007. In the World Cup itself, Argentina beat the host nation, France, in the opening game and Ireland in a later pool match. The Pumas went on to defeat Scotland in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champions South Africa in the semifinals. They met France again in the bronze final and won again, this time by a convincing 34-10 margin. Out of the last 10 matches between Argentina and France—four at José Amalfitani Stadium and six in France—Argentina have seven wins, with their three losses by a combined total of 13 points. Today (November 2020) Argentina is ranked eighth in the World Rugby Rankings.


Probably the best known players are:

Rugby sevens national team

The Argentina national rugby sevens team plays in the IRB Sevens World Series. Argentina is scheduled to host an annual tournament in that competition beginning with the 2013-2014 season.

Women's rugby

Although Argentina's women have not yet played test match rugby, they have been playing international sevens rugby since 2004. (Current playing record).

Media coverage

ESPN Latin America show all of the national team's internationals as well as games from the domestic league. A magazine show is also broadcast on the channel. Additionally many international rugby union competitions and internationals are broadcast by Fox Sports en Latinoamérica, for example, the Super Rugby competition between provincial sides from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as South Africa's domestic competition, the Currie Cup, and New Zealand's ITM Cup. Fox also broadcasts numerous internationals, such as the Tri Nations Series, as well as other tests and tours. [22]

See also

Additional bibliography

Related Research Articles

The Rugby Championship

The Rugby Championship is an international rugby union competition contested annually by Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. These are the four highest ranked national teams in the Southern Hemisphere, the Six Nations is a similar tournament in the Northern Hemisphere.

Argentina national rugby union team

The Argentina national rugby union team represents Argentina in men's international rugby union; it is organised by the Argentine Rugby Union. Nicknamed the Pumas, they play in sky blue and white jerseys. They are ranked 8th in the world by World Rugby, making them the highest-ranked nation in the Americas.

Hugo Porta Rugby player

Hugo Porta is a former Argentine Rugby Union footballer, an inductee of both the International Rugby Hall of Fame and IRB Hall of Fame, and one of the best fly-halves the sport has seen. During the 1970s and 1980s, he played 58 times for Los Pumas, captaining them on 34 occasions, including leading them during the first World Cup in 1987.

Argentine Rugby Union

The Argentine Rugby Union is the governing body for rugby union in Argentina. It is a member of World Rugby, with a seat on that body's Executive Counci, and a founding member of Sudamérica Rugby.

Agustín Pichot Rugby player

Agustín Pichot is a retired Argentine rugby union player, formerly captain of the Argentine team and the English club Bristol. In addition to Bristol, he played for French sides Stade Français and Racing Métro after leaving Argentine team CASI from San Isidro in 1997. In 2011, he was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. He was Vice-Chairman of World Rugby between 2016 and 2020.

Felipe Contepomi Argentine rugby coach

Felipe Contepomi is an Argentine rugby coach who is currently the backs coach at Leinster Rugby. He was a rugby union footballer who played fly-half or centre; his last club was Club Newman, in the first division of the URBA championship. He was also a key player for Argentina, having played 15 years for the national team. His twin brother Manuel was also a Puma. In June 2015 he was appointed coach of Argentina XV. Contepomi was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in November 2017.

Club Atlético San Isidro

The Club Atlético de San Isidro is an Argentine sports club based in the city of San Isidro in Greater Buenos Aires. Originally established as a football club, San Isidro has gained recognition for its rugby union team, holding a record of 33 Torneo de la URBA championships. The senior squad currently competes at Top 12, the top division of the Unión de Rugby de Buenos Aires league system.

Unión de Rugby de Buenos Aires

The Buenos Aires Rugby Union, usually referred as URBA, is the Argentine governing body that organises and controls the rugby union in the Buenos Aires Province. The remaining clubs from the province are distributed amongst four other unions: Unión de Rugby del Oeste de Buenos Aires in the west, Unión de Rugby del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires in the centre, Unión de Rugby de Mar del Plata in the east, and Unión de Rugby del Sur in the south.

Unión de Rugby de Rosario

The Rosario Rugby Union is the organisational body that controls the game of rugby union in Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina. The rest of Santa Fe province teams are organised under the Unión Santafesina de Rugby.

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The URBA Top 12 is an Argentine rugby union club competition organised by the Buenos Aires Rugby Union (URBA). It is the top division of the Argentine rugby league system. Created on 10 April 1899 by the "River Plate Rugby Union", the Top 12 is the oldest rugby competition in South America and one of the oldest club competitions in the world.

Pablo Matera Rugby player

Pablo Nicolás Matera is an Argentine rugby union player who plays as a flanker for the The Crusaders of the Super Rugby. Previously, he played for Stade Français on the Top 14 League, the Leicester Tigers in England, the Pampas XV in the South African Vodacom Cup, and the Jaguares in the Super Rugby. Matera has been a regular starter for Argentina since his debut in 2013, having played over 50 tests for his national team. In May 2021, Matera signed with The Crusaders of the Super Rugby.

The 1993 Campeonato Argentino de Rugby was won by selection of Tucumàn that beat in the final the selection of Unión de Rugby de Rosario.

The 1997 Campeonato Argentino de Rugby was the 51st annual rugby competition held in Argentina in 1997. Cordoba defeated Rosario in the final game to win the tournament.

The 1998 Campeonato Argentino de Rugby was won by the selection of Unione of Buenos Aires

The Campeonato Argentino de Rugby 1999 was based on the selection of the Argentine Rugby Union.

Jerónimo de la Fuente Argentine rugby union footballer

Jerónimo de la Fuente is an Argentine rugby union footballer who plays as a centre for USAP Perpignan and the Argentina national rugby union team.

Javier Ortega Desio Rugby player

Javier Ortega Desio is an Argentine rugby union player who plays as a loose forward for the Argentine Super Rugby side Jaguares, and the Argentina national rugby union team.

Jaguares (Super Rugby)

The Jaguares is an Argentinian professional rugby union team based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were founded in 2015 and are the first Argentinian team to play in SANZAAR's Super Rugby competition, participating from the 2016 Super Rugby season onwards. They were the runners up during the 2019 Super Rugby season, losing to the Crusaders 19–3 in the Super Rugby Final, played on July 6, 2019. They participated in Super Rugby until the end of the 2020 Super Rugby season, before they departed the competition having not been named in any of the regionalised formats for the 2021 Super Rugby season.

History of the Argentina national rugby union team

The History of the Argentina national rugby union team starts with the first international played by an Argentine side against the British Isles in 1910 when they toured on South America. Argentina gained recognition in 1965, when the team toured South Africa playing a series of friendly matches there. In that tour the national team was nicknamed Los Pumas, a name that became an identity mark for Argentina, remaining to present days.


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