BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina backs Santiago Cordero and Matias Moroni, who thrilled fans at the 2015 World Cup in Britain, will be back at Twickenham this month looking to cement places in the rugby sevens team for the Rio Olympics.
The pair, part of the Jaguares squad in the new franchise’s debut season in Super Rugby, have been drafted into the Pumas party for the last two legs of the world sevens circuit in Paris this week and London a week later, their final competition before the August Games.
Coach Santiago Gomez Cora called the Olympics the ultimate sporting experience, and Argentina will be playing close to home, but he told Reuters it was not about simply taking seven top internationals to the Games and expecting to win a medal.
“Cordero and Moroni are players who can boost the team we’ve been building throughout the season so we think they can give us a nice leap in quality,” the coach said in an interview after training.
“But we want the competition (for places) to be fair. We know they play brilliantly but we ... want to see them,” added Gomez Cora when asked how sevens regulars might feel about big-name players coming in to snatch Olympic places.
”It was agreed last year with Pumas head coach Daniel Hourcade they would take part in the last two stages of the circuit ... to avoid switching back and forth from one code to the other.
“If they are chosen for the Games they will stay with us after the June (international) window,” the 37-year-old Gomez Cora said, referring to the fact the pair may represent the 15-man Pumas against Italy and France in Argentina.
Cordero and Moroni are quick and well suited to sevens, having played on the circuit before becoming established Pumas, but getting back into the shorter game will not be easy.
“It’s harder to move from the XV (game) to sevens ... because you feel lost in the physical aspect and the technical adjustments for not being there for the whole process,” said Gomez Cora who captained Argentina to second place at the 2009 World Cup and holds the sport’s record of 230 tries.
Going to the Games is an emotional experience for competitors and he had to rein in their excitement, Gomez Cora said.
“The Olympics is everything but we must go step by step. It’s so emotional that you have to be wary of clouding or distorting your vision,” he explained.
”I would wish every sportsperson to be a part of an Olympic team, it’s the ultimate and next to being a player, the closest one can get is as a trainer so I‘m really grateful, I feel fortunate.
“(The 2015 Pan-American Games in) Toronto was perfect with all the athletes in a modern village but now it will be multiplied by five continents and other greats, seeing top basketball players, golfers, (sprinter) Usain Bolt with his little tray next to you in the meal queue,” said Gomez Cora.
“I’d be happy to stay there for two hours, you usually curse when a queue is long but I’d want it to be eternal and it’s not a forced situation, it’s natural and you’re all there as equals.”
Gomez Cora said it was magical for a sportsperson to compete at the Olympics.
“The big professionals want to recover the reason they went into a sports career, for the fun,” he added.
”They’ve lost a lot of that because of the money, the fame, but going to a Games takes you back to where it all started for you.
“I‘m convinced sevens is a game with the same (Olympic) spirit in which amateurism flourishes.”
Argentina will get a boost playing close to home and without suffering from the time difference that is a big factor on the sevens circuit.
“The Pumas say there is nothing nicer than playing at home and although this is not at home, we always play so far away, we don’t have any tournament in which we are hosts, the nearest is 14 hours by plane,” Gomez Cora said.
“Playing near home will lift the lads because they say ‘I want to show what I do around the world because they never see it because I play far away’, friends and family will be there and that can be a plus.”
Additional reporting by Miguel Lobianco; Editing by Tony Jimenez