Vamos Los Pumas

October 7, 2012

My farmer has taken some of our staff and a few strays to a Beldisloe Cup test in Australia for several years.

When asked why I didn’t go too, I’ve always said we’d both enjoy it more if I didn’t.

But the idea of going to Argentina with the All Blacks was different.

We hosted an AFS student from there and his family is now ours. Our links to Argentina have been strengthened by the marriage of a nephew to a woman from Buenos Aires; we’d had six trips there and I was very keen on a seventh visit.

We joined the 300-strong Air New Zealand All Black entourage which left New Zealand a week before the Rugby Championship test against the Pumas.

The nine of us in our group were all country people and included four farmers and a stock agent. We could have stayed in Buenos Aires and gone to an All Black practice but the call of the country was stronger so we headed out of town for four days to catch up with friends and visit farms.

We returned to the city on Thursday in time to join the entourage’s evening with the Club Atlético Ferrocarril General San Martín, home of the San Martin Rugby Club where we were entertained by  a three-part contest between former Pumas prop Serafin Dengra and former All Black Frank Bunce (Dengra won the haka, Bunce won the tango and I’m not sure who won the banner erection.)

The locals were very welcoming,  forgiving of my rusty Spanish and treated us to a delicious meal featuring meat cooked on the asado.

Saturday’s test was in La Plata about 40 minutes from Buenos Aires. We arrived there mid-afternoon for a couple of hours of pre-game build-up which included talks by Olympic gold medalist Mahe Drysdale and Frank Bunce.

Our journey from there to the stadium was eased by a police escort which amused us and gained the attention of people we passed, most of whom gave us big smiles and friendly waves.

Estadio Unico, which is covered,  seats 52,000 and had a capacity crowd.

It is alcohol-free which appeared to have no impact on the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the crowd.

All week advertisements had been encouraging people to hug each other while the All Blacks did the haka and most of those in the stadium did.

The noise from the crowd was deafening, especially when the Pumas scored first. They quietened down a bit as the All Blacks took control but continued to be good humoured and polite even though it was obvious the home side wasn’t going to win.

The only noise while the Puma’s player too a shot at goal was from New Zealanders which earned shocked looks from the locals. When thy were noisy while an All Black was taking a shot, the announcer asked them to show respect.

It was an amazing experience and while I still think my farmer and I would both enjoy the Australian excursions more if I didn’t go, my fears about what happens on rugby trips weren’t realised.

Air New Zealand looked after us well with good pre-tour communication, excellent communication and organisation in Argentina and their usual friendly but professional service. They finished by putting on a special flight from Auckland to Christchurch for southerners when a later departure than anticipated from Buenos Aires meant we’d miss the scheduled connection.

If they offer a similar trip in future I’d be very keen to go again.

The 54-15 score secured the All Blacks the Rugby Championship trophy but the Pumas didn’t give up and given the Wallabies’ injury woes could well beat them when they meet in Rosario this afternoon.

With Robbie Deans as coach my heart would usually back the Wallabies if they were playing anyone but the All Blacks. But with memories of the wonderful experience in La Plata so fresh, today I’m saying vamos Los Pumas.

P.S. Jame Ihaka covered the tour for the Herald: Day 1,  day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5, day 6, day 7 and day 8.


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