Friday 24 November 2017

Postcard from Argentina: Viva la Resistencia – or maybe not

If you reckon this shabby town is an odd place to host a Test, you would be on the money

The intimidating sight which Ireland's players faced on the captain's run prior to the first Test against Argentina in Resistencia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
The intimidating sight which Ireland's players faced on the captain's run prior to the first Test against Argentina in Resistencia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

"Where you from?" asks the taxi driver, turning in his seat and somewhat disconcertingly taking his eyes of the road.

"Irlanda," comes the collective reply from the two journalists and a snapper making their way across the border to attend the national rugby team's captain's run.

"What are you doing here?" the local man says incredulously, bringing his car to a complete stop which is probably for the best given he appears to have lost interest in it, given the glamorous guests he has encountered.

The guests, however, are distracted by the bedraggled pony and trap making it's way across the junction, scrap metal on the back.

"Progress," says the taxi driver with an exaggerated shrug. His English wasn't great, but, as I said to him, it's better than my Spanish, in fairness.

Yesterday we pulled out of Resistencia and one imagines for the large Irish contingent on Aerolineas Argentina flight AR 1757, there will be no prospect of a return.

In truth, most of the Irish made only a fleeting trip to the capital of the Chaco province, with its sister city of Corrientes across the river getting a major tourism boost out of the visit of the Irish national team. The equivalent in Ireland is possibly Lifford and Strabane on the Donegal/Derry border.


Crossing state lines is something of a hassle given the taxis aren't really allowed to take passengers from one to the other.

Still, our enterprising friend took his sign down and braved the numerous police on the bridge that acts as a border between the two.

While Corrientes, with its decent hotels and restaurants has a faded grandeur to it, Resistencia seems far shabbier and poorer, even if it's statistically wealthier.

In Argentina, unfortunately, it seems the wealth doesn't get shared around too much and the conditions in which the locals live takes a bit of getting used to.

If you reckon it's an odd place to host a Test match, then you'd be on the money. Ireland are the first nation to take on the Pumas here and the majority of the crowd at Saturday's game were clearly pretty new to the game.

The agrarian Chaco province, of which Resistencia is capital, may be the poorest in the nation, but, according to the locals, they still manage to have a state governor who somewhere found the cash to build the capital city's football club a fine stadium which has also hosted the Argentinian national team's meeting with neighbouring Paraguay before Saturday's game.

The club he built the Estadio Centenario for, Sarmiento de Resistencia, are the second most popular club in the city and province, and they just happen to be the one the governor supports.

We passed Chaco For Ever, their local rivals' ground on the way out of town and let's just say the people's team won't be hosting any internationals any time soon.

Having swapped our initially brave taxi driver for a local less inclined to take on the law, we got a full tour on the way back from the stadium as we were hauled into the city centre to wait for a cross-border service to take us back across the bridge.

With no Spanish, a couple of laptops and cameras and our identification locked in the hotel safe, it was slightly disconcerting to be dumped outside an office where a woman sipped Mate through a straw and not much seemed to be going on.

But, despite plenty of warnings about crime and one wag's advice to 'bring a knife' the whole place has been safe and welcoming and getting around has been relatively easy.

Still, images of the Irish team being escorted around the place by armed guard in army fatigues have been beamed around the world and the local union and the IRFU can't take chances in a city where we're told the team hotel's owner was kidnapped a few weeks ago.

Aside from eating steak, there's not a huge amount to do and a trip across the border to Paraguay had to be aborted when we discovered the nearest bridge across the border is 400km away.

The stamp will have to wait for another day.

So, we left Corrientes, via Resistencia, yesterday and returned to the relative splendour of Buenos Aires before moving north again tomorrow to Tucuman, slightly more on the beaten track with a local rugby culture and a record of hosting Tests.

While it is unlikely any of those who visited Corrientes and Resistencia will ever return to this isolated spot of South America, it is equally unlikely that anyone will forget their trip.

And that's what touring is supposed to be about, isn't it?


Enviously waving Messi and Co off to World Cup

Although there was a healthy crowd at Saturday's first Test, the majority of Argentinian eyes are on Brazil this week with Lionel Messi and Co kicking off their World Cup campaign on Sunday.

The majority of the country's sports media are on the move across the border it seems, with the second favourites for the tournament carrying major expectations on their shoulders as they look to win a third title.

The opportunity arose to go and see them in Buenos Aires last week and so the majority of the touring Irish media headed to the Estadio Monumental where Argentina claimed their controversial 1978 title.

There was no home comforts either, mid-priced tickets at the back of the Belgrano Stand were secured and full searches and even finger-printing were the order of the day on the way in.

The game itself between the locals and Trinidad and Tobago was typical friendly fare, lit up by Messi's touches but also sullied by Argentina's profligacy in front of goal.

They won the match 3-0, but it could have been a lot more. With Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero unused on the bench, they have plenty of room for manoeuvre.

It was a fun evening in a novel setting, but as you left the packed stadium that was beginning to sing their team off to Brazil, there was a real sense of envy.

World Cups are great, but they're better when you're in them.

Watching the excitement build this week will only reinforce the disappointment that Ireland won't be with them.

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