||Buenos Aires, August 22, 1974|
||73 caps between 1995 and 2008|
There are a number of reasons why Twickenham Stadium is etched indelibly on the memory of Agustin Pichot, but one stands out.
Pichot, Argentina’s brilliant scrum half and former captain, had decided to buy a couple of things in the Rugby Store at Headquarters before the Pumas took on England in November 2000.
Naturally there was quite a queue, which Pichot dutifully joined. Now the thing about Pichot is that he is easily recognisable because of his shoulder-length, jet black hair, a feature that certainly makes him stand out from the crowd. Well, usually.
In front of him were a father and his son, and they were discussing the forthcoming clash. Pichot takes up the tale. “Eventually they began to talk about me. Then they turned around and assuming that I was an Argentinian fan, they began talking to me about the Pumas scrum half Agustin Pichot.
“They said to me: ‘What do you think about Agustin Pichot?’ And I said that yeah, I thought he was OK. We ended up talking about myself for about 15 minutes. And they never once recognised me. There was even a picture of me in a Barbarian jersey up on one of the walls in the shop. I left without telling them who I was. I thought it was very funny.”
The result of that match was not quite so amusing. England won it without conceding a single point, leaving Argentina’s record against England at Twickenham at three defeats in three appearances.
It was not until their fourth visit, in 2006, that the Pumas finally reversed the trend, leaving Pichot, who was captain on that day, with one of his greatest memories of the ground.
The match took place on Remembrance Day, the 11th day of the 11th month. It is certainly a day every Argentine rugby fan and player will remember. It was the day that the Pumas savaged the then World Champions and emerged with their maiden victory over England on English soil.
Argentina had twice tasted victory over England, but on both occasions they were on home turf in Buenos Aires, in 1990 and again in 1997. And this victory was extra special, because it was the first time England had lost at Twickenham to a country that was not in the so-called ‘top eight’ rugby-playing nations.
“I had always dreamed that one day Twickenham would be the stage for an amazing moment in Argentine rugby,” says Pichot, who pronounced himself delighted to have been inducted on to the Wall of Fame.
It was certainly that. It also helped Argentina’s case to be embraced as one of the top rugby-playing nations in the world. Their third place finish in the Rugby World Cup a year later reinforced the impression that the Pumas had finally come of age.
“That victory was like a point where everything converged: all the fight for recognition, for bringing Argentina to a place where we deserved to be,” says Pichot with understandable pride.
“I remember the game perfectly. I missed a tackle on Paul Sackey and he went on to score a try. I remember Federico Todeschini’s interception try and that won us the game. I remember receiving the man of the match award – I couldn’t believe it.
“The game was very physical as usual. England were suffering from a bad run of games but the pride of the English was still there. The press were against them but they still came out and they played a very physical game. But we were very well prepared. We were ready to perform.
“Everything just fell into place. It wasn’t just because it was a match that we had won, it was more special than that. There was a magic in the air.
“My first thoughts when the final whistle went were that it was the second special moment of my career. Now I have three special moments. The first was when I pulled on the Pumas jersey for my debut against Australia in 1995. The second was beating England in 2006. The third was Argentina finishing in third place in the 2007 Rugby World Cup.”
Typically, Pichot realises that the victory was bigger than one player. The passionate former captain wants to see Argentina competing on a more regular basis with the likes of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, turning the present Tri-Nations into a quadrangular tournament. For that reason the 2006 triumph was crucial.
“I think it was a marker for us. There is a thing in rugby: you almost have to pass an exam, like at school. You have to achieve things and it is not just a question of achieving something, but also a matter of how you achieve it.
“One of the most difficult things a national rugby team has to do before it can enter the world of the big guys, is to beat England at Twickenham. Not many countries have done it.
“Argentina have only played a handful of games at Twickenham, maybe five times in the last 20 years, so for a player moments like that are rare. At the moment for Argentina it is a one-off, victory over England at Twickenham.
“For me Twickenham is very special. I played more than 70 games in my international career, I toured a lot, and I have been to some wonderful stadiums in places such as New Zealand and South Africa, but I have a very special feeling for Twickenham.
“For one year, when I was playing for Richmond, I lived just 200 metres from Twickenham.”
And he is one of a great many players who is an admirer of the legendary baths, although for Pichot something that impresses him even more is the pitch itself.
“The grass and how they take care of it. It is very tidy it is well taken care of.”
Pichot, who has been working for the Argentinian government on various projects since retiring from the game, is something of an Anglophile.
“England is my second country, my second home. I went to university in England. I played club rugby for six years in England. I was very young when I first arrived, but the English people gave me everything.
“So in 2006 when the final whistle went, all these thoughts went through my head. All the times that I had walked by the ground, all the moments that I had lived in England and had enjoyed there. England was one of the countries that had helped me achieve that victory. It was like being in the garden of my house with my big brother saying to me, ‘Well done’.
“I paid respect to the whole concept of me having been embraced by the English people, and for being given the chance – that is how it seemed to me – to be able to come back and say to England and the English people, ‘This is how much I have evolved in the game, and it is thanks to you.’”
Pichot, who is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Italian, seems destined for some sort of ambassadorial role for his country. He has already played a part in helping to get Rugby Sevens accepted for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will be staged in Brazil.
His passion for his country and his sport is apparent. He is eager to spread the word and have rugby union played by more South American countries.
“It is brilliant that Rio de Janeiro is to host the 2016 Olympic Games,” he says. “It will be great for the region, because apart from Argentina and Spain, only Uruguay and Chile play rugby. The rest of the countries are very football-orientated. With the Games coming to Rio and including rugby, it will be wonderful for the whole sport.”
Whether Pichot ends up as a diplomat, or even perhaps a politician, he has already taken the initial steps in a new career. “I am not in the external affairs department of the government, but I am doing some work for different government departments. I have been doing this for the last year.”
Whatever he ends up doing, rugby will always hold an important place in his heart. As will Twickenham.
“I think Twickenham is the cathedral of rugby. So everything that takes place there is special. It is a sacred place. It is the soul of rugby. The place is magic.”