The opening two weeks of Rugby World Cup 2015 have been great: full of twists, turns and excitement from the off. For our money though, the fans in blue and white hoops have been the highlight. Shôn Douglas explains.
Yesterday, after a tough yet entertaining 80 minutes, Daniel Hourcade’s men dispatched Tonga by 45 points to 16 and, in doing so, all but assured their progression to the quarter-finals. They were cheered on from the stands of Leicester City Stadium by one of Argentina’s greatest sons: Diego Maradona. The images of Diego flapping his arms in the air and playing keepy-uppy in the Pumas’ dressing room after the game will, no doubt, become some of the most iconic of this tournament. But full plaudits should be given to the thousands of other fans dressed in white and blue who set this tournament alight with their singing and support long before ‘He of the Hand of God’ turned up.
On the third day of competition, a bullish Argentinian side gave reigning champions New Zealand a bit of a scare at Wembley. Playing with pace, invention and aggression Los Pumas stirred the senses of impartial fans who had an eye on another upset following the heroics of Japan the day before. Alas, New Zealand made changes and went up a gear, running out 26-16 winners by the time the final whistle blew. What Argentina did secure was a major charm offensive, both on and off the pitch. As mentioned in this blog’s ‘World Cup Diary’, the way the Argentinean fans made Wembley their own that day (and the way they drowned out the All Blacks’ support) was very impressive. This was supposed to be England 2015’s bow of deference to the World Champs but, instead, turned into a samba of colour and noise. Brent had become Buenos Aires. On that day, you got a sense that Argentina would have a major part to play in this tournament.
The benefits of Argentina’s participation in the Rugby Championship are obvious for all to see. Since they joined the former Tri-Nations they have developed as a rugby playing nation, showing more intensity, professionalism, and tactical nous in games against some of the world’s best. Their remarkable victory over South Africa at the end of this season’s competition was a major turning point for the one time ‘scrum-centric’ tourists. It gave fans and players alike the genuine belief that they have the ability to upset the apple-cart of world rugby. The Rugby World Cup (arguably where it all began for them back in 2007) provides a chance for Argentina to prove they belong to the elite of the international game.
Fans of Argentina have long enjoyed footballing success and the sport will still be number one in the county irrespective of how well the rugby team do. They are, however, a passionate bunch: filling the stadiums they dominate in their thousands with countless songs, flags and dancing. They have certainly taken the rugby side to their hearts. The comprehensive victory over Georgia at Kingsholm, Gloucester was as impressive off the pitch as on it. A crowd of just over 14,000 watched Los Pumas run riot in the second half, securing a 54-9 win and that all important bonus point. The fans didn’t stop singing throughout the game, leaving hardened stewards of many a Gloucester game to remark on the incredible atmosphere at this old ground.
However the rest of the tournament plays out for Argentina, one thing that is certain is that their fans will love every minute of every game until making their way back to South America. There they will recount young and old with tales of their heroes, making the Kiwis (and perhaps others) sweat and how they won over impartial fans with their swashbuckling play and infectious songs.
It’s an Olé from me!