Pumas a welcome addition but they need all stars on deck

Club preferred … Felipe Contepomi of Stade Francais.
Club preferred … Felipe Contepomi of Stade Francais.

Four weeks of the Rugby Championship has shown us enough to ask the question, is this new format the way forward in the southern hemisphere?

The depending factor was always going to be Argentina and whether or not they were going to be competitive against three countries that have tasted World Cup success.

The answer to that question is ''Yes''. Argentina have proven to be worthy of a place to sit at the table with the strongest teams in the south. The Pumas were always going to be unknown quantities because they can be very inconsistent, and that's what worried the administrators when they conceived this competition.

When you take a look at the squad most of the players are based overseas. The majority call Europe home.

There is a line in the contracts that states, if you are seconded to play a Test by your country, your club or franchise has to release you, in accordance with IRB guidelines. That's if the players want to play for their country.

Felipe Contepomi is the perfect example of a player who didn't. The country v club debate is then sidelined. He chose the latter and opted to stay with his new club for its pre-season rather than take part in the inaugural Rugby Championship.

The reason why most of the Argentinians play overseas is that club rugby in their homeland cannot match the wages paid elsewhere. So they go overseas to earn a buck then, when required, play for their nation. Not a bad deal if you are the administrators who want your top players to gain exposure at the top end - you don't have to pay for the privilege.

ARU chief John O'Neill had concerns in July when Contepomi chose what was in effect the loyalty of the dollar rather than the honour of playing for his country. I can understand the 35-year-old Contepomi's reasoning in choosing the club and getting ready to play the new season versus taking on another rigorous Test season. This is how the bills are going to be paid, so a certain degree of loyalty to the club is needed. The difficulty with the club v country scenario is the player gets caught in the middle of having to make a decision that he would prefer not to face. Who actually has the ownership of the players?

Here in Australia the players are contracted to their state and then to their country if they are at the top echelon of the talent pool. So when the governing body says jump, the players ask how high. The other scenario - and I was privy to it in my time at the Newcastle Falcons - was the owners objecting to the international players' time away. The players were ''needed'' for preparation time for games and this crept further and further into the playing schedule of the club's program.

The Argentine players suffer a major disadvantage - in effect they are playing year-round. The European season runs from September to April, longer in France, and includes the finals for some teams as well. Players then get eight weeks of downtime in readiness for the next pre-season. It's an even tougher year if they then board a plane for the Southern Hemisphere international program.

Seeing the stars of Argentine rugby in action was a big part of the lure of getting the Pumas into the major competition. The eligibility laws were specifically amended so they could appear without pressure from their clubs.

Although most of the players are based in Europe, they have to fit in with the scheduling of SANZAR, which means playing in our time zones. For this reason the Argentinians - however much spirit and determination they have when take the field in their famous blue and white strip - will always have the brakes on ever so slightly against the Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks. It's difficult enough to face these teams on a good day without battling the lag caused by tough scheduling as well.

Perhaps there is a need to expand the Super Rugby competition and incorporate the South Americans in the top tier of provincial rugby. I'll save that argument for another day.

In the meantime, the Pumas have been invited into this very competitive market, so let's at least make it the smoothest of transitions as possible. This is one area the administrators have to be mindful of if this competition is to continue to succeed. However, Argentina make it difficult to win in their backyard - as we saw when they drew with South Africa a month ago, so perhaps it evens itself out in the end.

Twitter - @burkey710

This story Pumas a welcome addition but they need all stars on deck first appeared on WA Today.