Argentina and South Africa both suffered poor defeats this weekend against England and Ireland respectively, which has prompted so many to look at what on earth is going on in those two rugby nations.
Since the 2015 World Cup, which left South Africa and Argentina ranked third and fourth respectively (the South Africans had been ranked as high as second heading into that tournament), these sides have managed only thirteen wins out of a possible 45, at a win rate of 29%.
This has led to them slipping down the rankings. South Africa’s fall out of the top four has meant they did not receive a top seed at the World Cup for the first time since 2003, with Argentina slipping behind Fiji into tenth spot.
Various theories have been put forward. The quality of coaching of both sides, the various different controls they’ve put on their players playing elsewhere and the mind-set of the two nations has all been questioned.
But there’s one thing that these two nations are lacking that the worlds top four have in abundance.
Foreign-born players to plug the holes they have within their side.
England and Ireland had five foreign-born players in their squad each, with South Africa and Argentina not having a single one.
I’d like to make it clear, that if England and Ireland had not picked these players, I still believe they would have won. That’s despite the likes of Nathan Hughes, Semesa Rokoduguni, CJ Stander and Bundee Aki having fantastic games.
But the principle of being able to plug your holes with foreign-born players has made a difference.
My criticisms around foreign players playing for the big nations centre mainly on Pacific Islanders rejecting their home nations because of the lucrative match salaries that the big pay-day.
The players can’t be criticised for taking the money. Rugby doesn’t pay anything like as much as football and when players have families, and in some cases whole villages, in the Pacific Islands relying on them as a source of income, they can’t be blamed for playing for a nation that pays 50 times more.
Not all the foreign-born players England and Ireland used were from the Pacific Islands, despite those players attracting the most attention.
But like the player poaching situation I’ve mentioned many times before, money is the issue once again.
South Africa are not one of the poorer rugby nations. In fact, they pay roughly €500 more to their players than Ireland (although Argentina pays less).
But with both these nations, there is an ability to attract foreign talent to their clubs.
In Argentina, the Jaguares simply don’t have the space for foreign players, given they are the sole professional club for any players in Argentina’s massive pool to play professional rugby. There should be another franchise but in reality, there’s just not enough money there.
In South Africa, the franchises’ dwindling attendances and fading performances (other than the recent rise of the Lions) mean they are struggling to attract foreign talent for financial reasons and success at their schools and university levels mean they don’t tend to bring in foreign-born players when they’re young.
As already mentioned, I don’t believe the foreign players were the difference last weekend, but perhaps not being able to use players from other countries to plug gaps in the team, is resulting in these sides’ long-term struggles.
Both teams have clear weaknesses. For example, Argentina are still having to call on players in their mid-30s throughout their team including Juan Martin Hernandez and South Africa still lack flair in their backs.
It could be argued these are because of selection decisions, foreign-based player selection policies and (for South Africa quotas), but the fact is a few foreign players to fill in the holes could significantly change the way these teams play, and therefore their fortunes.
I accept this is not an entire explanation, and that there are definitely other reasons for these teams’ recent failures, but this is food for thought at the very least
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena
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