Thursday, November 8, 2007

Loffreda backs Argentina to be seventh nation

Argentina should be invited to take part in an expanded Six Nations competition, according to the coach who guided the Pumas to third place in this year's Rugby World Cup. Marcelo Loffreda, the new head coach at Leicester, believes the European tournament would be the most suitable option as the sport looks at the best way to involve the South Americans on a more regular international basis.

"All Argentina's overseas players are playing in the northern hemisphere, so it would be impossible for them to be competitive in the Tri-Nations, which would be out of season," said Loffreda at his first press conference at Welford Road yesterday. Remarkably, he suggested Belgium, where Argentina had their pre-World Cup training camp, might be a better "home" base than Spain. "I think only in Argentina there would be real support, but there isn't the money. It is a circular problem, and at the moment we don't have the answer."

After eight years coaching his national team on a part-time, expenses-only basis, the 48-year-old civil engineer is the first Argentinian to take control at a professional European club. While admitting the size of the challenge, Loffreda - flanked by the two trophies held by the Tigers: the Guinness Premiership and the EDF Energy Cup - said he would draw on aspects of Argentina's successful amateur ethos in working with the Leicester players.

"Rugby is about passion, about responsibility, about commitment, about respect," said Loffreda. "It's not only about being good on the field, you have to be a very good player off the field too, and in many things off the field the amateur way is the good way. For the spirit of the team, to work as one part of a whole is really important."

He would like to bring Juan Martín Hernández, the Argentina stand-off who was one of the leading players of the World Cup, to Leicester, but pointed out that the 25-year-old still has 18 months of his contract left at Stade Français. Tigers' chairman, Peter Tom, after announcing plans to expand the ground capacity to 30,000, said the club was not currently negotiating to buy Hernández out of his contract.

However, Loffreda insisted that English players would continue to be the bedrock of the country's best-supported club. "I don't think this [team] has to be a selection of every country. You can add some outstanding players, but the base will be English," he said.

Nor should Tigers fans expect a sweeping change in style. "The staff here have done outstanding work, and I will rely on them. Maybe it will be the style as Leicester used to do it, maybe I will add some things - it depends on the opposition." On Saturday that will be Leinster in the opening match of the Heineken Cup, the one trophy they did not win last season.

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