Pichot inspires Argentina - as a fan
DUNEDIN, 5 Sept. - Argentina's welcome ceremony for Rugby World Cup 2011 was special in more ways than one.
The proceedings at Dunedin's Town Hall on Sunday included a haka, several speeches, a cap ceremony and traditional Maori hongi - bump of noses - greetings.
Then the Argentine player Agustín Gosio, guitar in hand, led his teammates in a rendition of Diego Torres' famous song Color Esperanza, as his compatriots supported him with clapping, cheers and back-up vocals.
Chairman of Rugby World Cup Limited, Bernard Lapasset, was among the distinguished guests who attended, along with Fernando Escalona, the Argentine ambassador to New Zealand, and David Cull, the mayor of Dunedin.
But perhaps the biggest inspiration to Argentina came from a man who was spotted standing quietly in the corner - Agustín Pichot, the legendary scrum half who led the country to third place in the 2007 World Cup.
Pichot, whose passion for Argentine rugby has remained undiminished since his retirement as a player, spoke after the ceremony about the significance of the blue and white colours of Argentina and about his new role - as a fan.
“It’s a somewhat strange feeling, I can’t deny it," said the man who was voted the best scrum half in World Cup history by fans in a Total Rugby Facebook and Twitter poll.
"But I think I just came to terms with it and so I don’t feel that different. I came to experience the World Cup with a lot of intensity, but I can relax as well.”
Pichot, who is also well known for his willingness to speak his mind, did not hesitate when he was asked whether his country’s achievements in France four years ago had led to improvements in Argentine rugby.
“I’m not sure if you can reap any benefits from a World Cup or not," he said. "You enjoy it and then it’s in the history books.
"Now it’s a different history and a different team with different players. Each World Cup is different and this is another one. Today I stand on the other side of the fence in jeans and a jacket.”
He also stressed the importance of passing on the belief that wearing Argentina's blue and white is an honour for every player.
Pushing the envelope
“The legacy is in the shirt, but each player carrying this shirt also carries that legacy and they have to keep pushing the envelope.
"The Pumas have a special mysticism when it comes to the shirt, and I’m sure that the majority of the guys are proud to be representing Argentina."
Pichot, whose distinguished career also took him to leading clubs in England and France, was asked about Argentina's first opponents in Pool B, England.
And he quickly admitted he did not "have a clue what the English team is thinking".
"I’ve been removed from the teams’ technical aspects. I’ve been more involved in the office work. I set a goal for myself to make sure that Argentina would be in the best possible situation during these four years I haven’t been on the pitch.
“My contribution to the team nowadays is to be a fan. The teams don’t need anyone aside from the teams themselves.”
Argentina face England at Otago Stadium on 10 September. Their other opponents in Pool B are Scotland, Romania and Georgia.
- South Africa
- New Zealand