CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Just like the Pumas, Pro12 strugglers need to up their game
10:07am Thursday 29th August 2013 in Sport
CLOSE but no cigar; a phrase that Newport Gwent Dragons have infuriatingly come accustomed to in recent years.
I don’t know if there’s a Spanish equivalent but Argentina are getting just as sick with plucky defeats in the Rugby Championship.
The Pumas are still waiting for their first scalp in the tournament after being edged out by South Africa in Mendoza last Saturday.
They did draw with the Springboks in 2012 but they desperately need a win.
Realistically they have just two chances to break their duck in 2013 because Argentina won’t beat New Zealand, even in a red-hot Buenos Aires atmosphere.
It’s all down to their games against Australia or the Pumas will be dealing in losing bonus points and alarm bells will ring.
Argentina’s inclusion in the Rugby Championship played a big part in them toppling Wales last autumn and they have some top talent in their squad.
But they were hammered 73-13 by the Boks in round one and England’s second string comfortably beat them twice on their own turf in the summer.
Questions will always be asked of the merits of underperforming teams if all they bring to the table is symmetry of fixtures.
The plight of Argentina in the Rugby Championship has echoes of Zebre in the RaboDirect Pro12.
The Italian side endured a winless 2012/13 after taking over from Aironi and a repeat would be unacceptable.
But Zebre are not the only ones in the Pro12 that need to up their game.
Newport Gwent Dragons, Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues and Connacht all need to improve and shatter the predictability of the league.
Lyn and Kingsley Jones have joined the management team at Rodney Parade from the Aviva Premiership where clubs need wins or they are out of the league.
London Welsh will play Championship rugby this season after managing five successes last term – one less than the Dragons.
The absence of relegation means that the Pro12 will never have the same tension and anxiety makes the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 so intense.
But if it wants to be taken seriously as a tournament then it needs the strugglers to claim a scalp or two and derail a title bid or two.
That, of course, is a point that the English and French clubs have been stressing when demanding change to the format of the Heineken Cup.
They want to reduce the amount of automatic qualifiers from the Pro12 and for it to really matter where a club finishes.
I certainly wouldn’t mind that, even if it made elite European qualification harder for the Dragons to achieve, because I want to cover matches where there is plenty up for grabs.
Sky Sports will televise the Celtic League in 2014/14 and they will want the element of tension when going up against the fare that BT Sport has bought.
It’s a problem highlighted by ex-Wales back row forward Jonathan Thomas, who left the Ospreys for Worcester this summer.
“The RaboDirect Pro12 has some of the best European teams, you play Munster and it's tough, but certainly I expect more intensity, week in, week out, and there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“The difference is that people are playing for their livelihoods. If Worcester get relegated at the end of the season, people lose their job.
“That doesn't happen in the Celtic League, because there is no relegation.
“People are scrapping for their jobs, week-in, week-out, and there are no easy games.”
Hopefully the Pro12 strugglers can ensure fewer one-sided romps for Leinster, Ulster et al this season.
Comments are closed on this article.