Argentina takes first step towards professionalism

Argentina contracted 31 local players on Tuesday in the first step toward professionalizing rugby at home so it can ultimately play in the Tri-Nations.

Pumas coach Santiago Phelan chose 31 players to receive 2,300 pesos ($655) per month from the Argentine Rugby Union in a plan financed and supervised by the International Rugby Board. The IRB will invest $8 million over the next three years.

The goal was for the players to eventually play for the Pumas, whose squad was mostly made up of men playing for European clubs.

“We don’t want Argentine rugby to depend only on the players that are in Europe, but rather on those who are here and could start preparing (here),” Phelan said on Tuesday.

Long a bastion of amateurism, and near bankruptcy three years ago, Argentina had to make part of its home game professional to meet the requirements of the IRB and Tri-Nations.

Finishing a best-ever third at the 2007 World Cup in France forced the IRB to find an annual tournament for the only top-ranked team without one. Argentina, because of all of its Euro-based players, preferred the Six Nations, but the IRB steered it to the Tri-Nations featuring New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

The Tri-Nations said they will be open to expansion in 2012, but needed Argentina to start allowing home players to be paid to prepare a broader base of talent for test rugby.

The new professionals will train from Monday to Friday and continue playing with their clubs, unless there are obligations to the UAR.

The monthly salary will allow the players “to dedicate the necessary time that is required to compete internationally,” Phelan said.

“This will help us move past the isolation and disadvantages we have compared to the rest of the top teams,” said UAR president Porfirio Carreras.


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