Tucuman on the front row
It is the cradle of Argentine rugby and, for a day, the capital of the rally-raid discipline. From Christian Califano to Dany Merlo, not forgetting Domingo Miguel Reginato, Chairman of the city's biggest club, several protagonists were present today for a meeting at the crossroads of their sporting lives.
The words come straight from the mouth of Christian Califano: "Tucuman is the Argentine version of Toulon. I've played here three times with the French team and the reception is a rough one. It's serious stuff. Some international careers have even been shattered here". In a country renowned for its football and where motorsport is also well-liked, this is where the cradle of rugby is situated and today the Dakar has pays homage to it with the presence, in addition to Califano, number 67, of other competitors who are fanatics of the oval ball. Daniel Merlo (No. 172), competing in his first Dakar, used to play for Mendoza. Selected by the Argentinean national team for the 1999 World Cup in Wales, this former hooker also remembers the roughness of the city's teams. "I've often played here and when you come here, you know you're going to be facing tough, proud and very confident guys". Dany Merlo finished his career somewhat early, in 2001, following an injury to the ligaments in his left knee. It is his other sport, motorcycling, that has brought him back here after an eventful first stage on which he fell after 173 km.At the finishing line in Tucuman today, much of the talk will also be about Jonatan Perello, the co-pilot of Roberto Naivirt, number 424. A young member of the Del Viso French Sport Association rugby team, he is all the more familiar with the importance of this city, given that he also plays as a forward, as a hooker to be precise, and that one of his best friends is "Roro", as Rodrigo Roncero, the Argentinean international prop forward currently playing for Stade Francais in Paris, is affectionately known.On this very Rugby-themed Dakar, there is also Vincent Guandani (No. 82). A member of the French Town Fronton's team, he is also participating in his first major rally-raid after having designed the visuals on several of the bikes enrolled in recent years.However, the biggest thrill of this second day will be for Domingo Miguel Reginato. The driver of vehicle number 441 is 'Mr. Rugby' in the city. Chairman of Union de rugby de Tucuman for many a year, three years ago he became chairman of the city's biggest club, Universitario, with its 860 members, a club he wants to lead on to bigger and better things. Domingo Miguel has established strong links with South Africa, a country to which he often sends the club's trainers and instructors for training courses. His latest major achievement is the visit of Jack White, the former Springboks coach and world champion in 2007, next April to hold a special training clinic. "You must never rest on your laurels," according to the former player who wore his region's colours on seven occasions. "I played against France, against the All Blacks as well, but I never played for the Pumas". This has not sopped Domingo Miguel from travelling and discovering the world. "I'm a very good friend of Nicolas Jeanjean's father and I still play in a veterans' team, the Old Virgins, where I play at full back".He has also enjoyed playing many other sports, such as football or athletics, but at present it is motorsport which occupies his time. It is a choice in keeping with family traditions, since his grand-father participated in his first race in 1934. Furthermore, thanks to the Dakar, he is enjoying a wonderful family moment: tackling an exceptional adventure with his two sons, Andrиs and Miguel, with whom he shares the cockpit of his vehicle. "It's very moving to be involved in such a big event like this with your children". It just goes to show that Tucuman is not merely famous for its toughness!