Sunday, July 25, 2010

Famous Faces Abroad - Argentine players in the new Top 14 teams

For the 2010-2011 Top 14 season, like always, there will be two different teams from the previous season. The winner of the 2009-2010 Pro d2 normal season, Agen and the winner of the Pro d2 final, La Rochelle will be in the Top 14 in place of Albi and Montauban. Usually the teams that rise into the Top 14 have difficult seasons and are favourites for relegation into the Pro d2 but this is not always the case. Racing Métro 92 were in the Pro d2 until two seasons ago and made last seasons play-offs of the Top 14. Toulon are a similar case in point. They made the semi-finals of last seasons Top 14 but were in the Pro d2 in 2007-2008.

In returning to the Top 14, Agen will certainly not be wanting to be one of the competitions worst teams. Agen were a very competitive team in the Top 14 until the year in which they were surprizingly relegated in 2006-2007. Agen have won the French championship a total of 8 times: in 1930, 1945, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1976, 1982, 1988 and have been runners up 6 times, the most recent being in 2002. They have a squad of very talented players including a huge list of test internations such as Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Fiji), Béka Sheklashvili (Georgia), Arsène Nnomo (Cameroon), Lisiate Fa'aoso, Opeti Fonua, Mosese Moala and Semisi Telefoni (Tonga), Jalil Narjissi (Morocco), Kevin Swiryn (USA), Miguel Avramovic and Alejandro Campos (Argentina). Agen also have highly regarded players from other countries including Adriaan Badenhorst (South Africa), Junior Pelesasa (Australia), Valentin Courrent (France) and Jamie Robinson (Wales). In other words, Agen appear to be a side that will compete well in this seasons Top 14.

Miguel Avramovic will be joining the club after taking a season off from French rugby to complete his qualification in Argentina to become a doctor. He played two seasons for former Top 14 club, Montauban from 2007-2009 and it was a surprize to many that he was left out of the Pumas squad for Rugby World Cup 2007. Before playing for Montauban he played one season in England for Worcester. Avramovic is a centre capable of playing at both 12 and 13. He made his test debut for Argentina in 2005 vs Japan and has played 12 tests for Argentina so far. His most recent test was as a replacement vs England in Manchester in June 2009. Avramovic is going to need to perform very well to be selected for Rugby World Cup 2011. In France alone he is up against fellow Pumas centres Felipe Contepomi (Toulon), Santiago Fernandez (Montpellier), Gonzalo Tiesi (Stade Français) and Matias Viazzo (Bourgoin). Without question, he is a very good player and has a good chance of being selected. It will be exciting to watch and French fans should count themselves very lucky.

Fellow Puma, Alejandro Campos, like Avramovic, also previously played for Montauban. Campos left the club along with most players after it was automatically relegated from the Top 14 to the third division in France (Federale 1) due to financial problems. He also played for ASM Clermont in 2007-2008. Campos is a backrow forward who usually plays at 7 but can also play at 6 or 8. He made his debut for Argentina vs Scotland in 2008 and has played 9 tests so far for Los Pumas. He was selected to replace the underperforming Juan Leguizamón vs France in June 2010 and performed outstandingly. Campos, underlined himself as a player Argentina must take to New Zealand 2011. If he is able to have a good season for Agen he will not only be in the  Pumas squad for Rugby World Cup 2011, but he will be in the starting line up to face England in Argentina's first match of the tournament.

Atlantique stade rochelais or simply La Rochelle do not have the history that Agen have but certainly are not going to be an easy team to defeat. They will be written off and be contenders for the wodden spoon and thus a return to the Pro d2 but the team is in no way a weak one. La Rochelle have been a competitive team in the Pro d2 for many years but have always fallen short at the end of the season and thus missed out on promotion to the Top 14. Finally, this has changed for them as the Poitou-Charentes region of France will at long last have a team in the Top 14. In gaining promotion to the Top 14, La Rochelle defeated Lyon, France´s third largest city.

The club has two Argentine players but neither of which have represented Argentina and are highly unlikely to ever do so. Andreas Bordoy is a prop who has not been able to get a lot of game time for the club in recent seasons unlike fellow Argentine frontrower, hooker Franco Pani. Pani played 22 matches last season for La Rochelle and 21 were as the starting hooker. The previous season he played 22 matches and all 22 were as the starting hooker. Regardless of not being in contention for a place in the Pumas Rugby World Cup 2011 squad, Pani will be playing against two hookers who should be there - Ledesma (Clermont) and Vernet Basualdo (Toulouse).

La Rochelle is also home to other international players including Norman Ligairi and Seru Rabeni (Fiji), Tamato Leupolu (Samoa), and captain Robert Mohr (Germany).

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