The complete sense of belonging that clubs generate in Argentina is something that is difficult to explain outside of the country. A family that comes to a rugby club is unlikely to leave and even if they cannot physically be present, the club will accompany them, in their hearts, wherever they go.

The case of Pablo Bouza, the new coach of the Spanish men's national team, is just one of many Argentines who, having given everything for their clubs, have opportunities away further afield but who, nevertheless, never forget their origins.

In Bouza's case, the club is Duendes, in the city of Rosario where he was born. His father Mario was one of the first Pumas from that city 300 kilometres from Buenos Aires, and his older brother Leandro joined the national team four years before Pablo. Children and grandchildren play for the club they love.

“There is a lot of passion in Duendes, a lot of fanaticism that is passed down from family to family,” explains Bouza.

A similar case to that of the Bouzas is that of the Imhoffs – José Luis became a Puma in 1965 and then coached the national team, his son Juan played his third Rugby World Cup in France last month, while another of his sons, Pedro, also played for Argentina.

“Duendes is one of the best clubs in the country; I don’t know if it is in results or statistics, but because of how we live rugby it certainly is,” Bouza said.

That passion has generated 27 internationals in its almost 70 years of existence and coaches of the calibre of Imhoff, his brother Tato as well as Juan Benzi and Raúl “Aspirina” Pérez and current Los Pumas assistant coaches, Andrés Bordoy and Bouza himself.

Building up experience

With 37 tests under his belt as a second and back-row, and having also played for Harlequins and Leeds, Bouza always had a knack for being a coach, and between 2013 and 2018 he was assistant coach of Los Pumas – first with Daniel Hourcade and then with his former team-mate Mario Ledesma.

Upon leaving the national team, starting in 2019 he began working as a High Performance advisor together with Hourcade, both for Sudamérica Rugby and World Rugby.

After collaborating with Uruguay on their road to Rugby World Cup 2019, he was coach of Peñarol Rugby in the Superliga Americana de Rugby, which became Súper Rugby América. On his watch, the Uruguayan franchise was two-time champion in 2022 and 2023.

“In Uruguay I had my best three years as a coach; had the best time and trained my best,” he says proud of his accomplishments. This year he was on the Los Teros staff for France 2023.

“I am grateful that after my departure from the Argentine Rugby Union I started working with them,” he added.

The 630km between Rosario and Montevideo saw him come and go many times, spending about 220 days a year in Uruguay.

“The problem was customs, which could sometimes slow you down for many hours,” he recalls of his constant travels home. “We would play on Friday night, sleep for a while, leave at two in the morning to be at my house on Saturday and Sunday. I spent less than a day travelling.” This effort was always appreciated by his wife, son and twin daughters.

Seeing his new team play

At first, the family will not settle in Spain, Pablo's new destination, as he takes charge of Los Leones, whom he saw play in the recent La Vila International Rugby Cup in Villajoyosa.

The Real Federación Española de Rugby spoke to Bouza prior to the start of Rugby World Cup, “but we agreed to talk afterwards since my focus was there”.

Uruguay would go on to be competitive in almost every department and secure a win against Namibia.

“I signed with Spain after the World Cup," he confirmed. “I went to see the players, the staff, to meet with them. I didn't know much so it was important to have been there with them.”

He witnessed the Rugby Europe Super Cup match between Iberians and Black Lion and also the tests against USA and Canada.

“I found a team that likes to attack a lot.”

Already written on his agenda is the trip to the Netherlands for the first round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2024, on 3 February, the home game against Germany and the always difficult trip to Tbilisi to play Georgia in the ensuing two weekends.

It is all preparation towards Spain's goal of qualifying for their first Rugby World Cup since 1999. 

“The main goal is to qualify for Australia 2027. We will begin to prepare now because qualification begins in 2025,” Bouza said.

“We must continue doing what was going well; what wasn’t working we must improve and change.

“We don’t have time to think about what happened in the last cycle and the classification, we must just learn and move on as there is little time to be ready.”