IT HAS BEEN a long time coming but Argentina are finally part of a competitive annual rugby tournament.
Los Pumas will face South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday with hopes more than expectations but the destination is being cherished as a prize in itself.
The country has been lobbying for inclusion in a major international tournament, that is held on a more regular basis than the World Cup, for the past two decades.
Argentine players, notably Felipe Contepomi with Leinster and Racing Metro’s Juan Martin Fernandez, have successfully featured in Europe and former Pumas scrum-half Augustin Pichot told the Total Rugby podcast recently that the plan had been originally to compete in an expanded Six Nations.
Fixture congestion and travel issues combined to leave that scheme as a non-starter and Argentina have been drafted in to freshen up a Tri-Nations championship that was staler than week-old bagels.
And so the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks have been joined by Los Pumas.
When Argentina finished third at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, beating France (twice), Scotland and Ireland along the way, it seemed like an interesting proposition – some genuine challenges for the Southern Hemisphere trio.
However, star players Contepomi, Mario Ledesma and Pichot have since retired and the dogged Argentine pack has only Rodrigo Roncero and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe as recognisable, if weather-beaten, faces.
An opener away to South Africa at Newlands is not the ideal start. Nonetheless, you can rely on a full 80 minutes of scrap from the newcomers.
The Boks may still be perplexed about the manner of the defeat to Australia but they were still eliminated at the quarter-finals and came within a phantom drop goal of being deservedly beaten by Australia.
Under new coach Heyneke Meyer, South Africa regrouped quickly to win the summer series against England but remain a team in transition.
Argentina, it must be noted, defeated France 23-20 in Cordoba back in June and will provide a blood, thunder, horse and cart challenge to away sides but do not expect a debut win for Santiago Phelan’s side on Saturday.
Argentina – Starting XV: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino; Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla; Juan Martin Hernandez (captain), Nicolas Vergallo; Rodrigo Roncero, Eusebio Guinazu, Juan Figallo, Manuel Carizza, Patricio Albacete, Julio Farias Cabello, Alvaro Galindo, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
South Africa – Starting XV: Zane Kirchner; Lwazi Mvovo, Jean de Villiers (captain), Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana; Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard; Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Andries Bekker, Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel.
South Africa play Argentina from 3pm (GMT) in Cape Town on Saturday, 18 August.