By Rex Gowar
LONDON (Reuters) – Lucas Noguera Paz’s decision to leave the Jaguares Super Rugby team and join Bath in the English Premiership might seem counter-productive considering the ban on foreign-based players representing Argentina.
A proud Puma since his debut as a 20-year-old in 2014, prop Noguera is no different from most Argentine rugby players whose dream is to wear the light blue and white hooped shirt of their country.
Noguera says he does wants to add to his 43 caps but felt he needed a change in order to improve his game and be ready to give more to the Pumas later in his career.
“I had a place in the Jaguares and luckily in the Pumas too and I knew that playing abroad, whatever my form, the doors to the Pumas would be closed to me,” Noguera told Reuters in an interview.
“I have no regrets, I knew the consequences, but I thought that if ever I had the chance of returning to the national team, if the doors opened for me I would want that and could give more to the team.
“It’s a long term investment I’m sure will bear its fruit.”
A recall is not an immediate possibility, although the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) is considering lifting the ban on overseas-based players nearer the 2019 World Cup.
Noguera, who moved to Bath in January, said he decided to quit the Jaguares because he had completed a cycle within a UAR programme which aims at nurturing a home-based Super Rugby franchise made up of 40 odd players as a feeder for the Pumas.
“I felt that to keep learning I had to take another path, seek another kind of rugby and learn how to become a part of another team,” said Noguera, who is from the northwestern Argentine rugby stronghold of Tucuman.
“I’m at a stage where I’m building my career. I’m 24, if I had left at 28 or 30, it wouldn’t be entirely for sporting reasons.”
Noguera, who is not far off completing a medical degree, is earning considerably more in England and able to continue his studies at local universities but said his decision to move was based solely on his desire to play English rugby.
“It’s a more organised game and very physical with a lot of competition in the scrum. For my position, it’s the kind of rugby that will help me grow,” said the loosehead prop.
“If I went to another Super Rugby club I’d still play the same tournament and I’m not sure how much I could improve.
“Without wanting to say one game is better than the other, they are different kinds of rugby, one is more dynamic but the other is a lot more physical.
“That means it can be slower but you fight for every ball … there is constant rucking, the scrum is not just a platform to launch attacks, they are all contested.
“I’m not a heavy prop,” added Noguera, who is 1.79 metres tall and weighs 108 kg. “So I thought that in England I could improve physically.”
The Jaguares, meanwhile, have made a significant breakthrough in their third season in Super Rugby, beating South Africa’s Bulls 54-24 in Buenos Aires on Saturday to consolidate on a run of four wins in Australia and New Zealand.
Noguera said the hard work put in by the team in adapting to the demands of Super Rugby since they joined in 2016 was bearing fruit.
“It’s an excellent tournament with the best teams in the world and I enjoyed it,” he said.
“It’s a very dynamic tournament, shorter than the Premiership, not many results went our way but we managed to raise the standard of the team.
“I think what we’re seeing now is the work of (those) years, adjusting small things and now we’re seeing the results.”
After only two wins in their opening six matches of the season, the Jaguares now have six and sit in second place in a tight South African conference ahead of next Saturday’s home match with the Sharks.
“We were a new team in the first year, we’d never played Super Rugby, we’d never had a professional team which had to play so many games,” Noguera said.
“It was all new, the game, the pressure, and we didn’t know what we were coming up against, but now we’re getting what we had always sought.”
(Reporting by Rex Gowar, editing by Nick Mulvenney)