Thursday, July 29, 2010

Famous Faces Abroad - Argentine players at Stade Français

French rugby giants, Stade Français Paris have a long history of elite Argentine players such as Agustin Pichot, Juan Martín Hernández and Gonzalo Quesada. For the 2010-2011 season it will be no different as there will be 6 Pumas players in the squad. Of the clubs four new signings three are Argentine players. The exception is Georgian prop, Goderdzi Shvelidze who is joining the club from relegated Montauban. The players have been bought in to bolster the team who had their worst ever season in 2009-2010 having failed to not only make the Top 14 play-offs but also to qualify for the 2010-2011 Heineken Cup. This season progress is demanded and nothing less than qualification for the play-offs will be tolerated.

Stade Français will have yet another season with Argentine loose-head prop, Rodrigo Roncero, who has been playing for the club since joining from Gloucester in 2004, leading the frontrow. He had an immediate impact on the club upon arriving and was an important player for Stade Français when they won the Top 14 in 2004 and 2007. Roncero is a highly respected player who leads by example on the field. Known for his tackling, Roncero is a player going against his age as he continues to outplay highly regarded players who are much younger than him. He will, again, command the number 1 shirt for Stade Français this season.

Roncero made his test debut for Argentina vs Japan in 1998 and has played a total of 40 tests for his country. The number is not as high as it should be because Roncero had struggled to be selected for Argentina because of the country´s tremendous front row resources. His second appearance for Argentina was not until 2002 when he was selected to play against Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. In 2003 he played against Fiji and the USA and succeeded in being selected for Rugby World Cup 2003 where he played two matches - vs Namibia and Romania. Since Australia 2003, Roncero has been Argentina´s first choice number 1. He had a great Rugby World Cup in 2007 and is considered a key member of Argentina´s front-row as Rugby World Cup 2011 approaches.

Pumas back-rower, Juan Leguizamón will be playing his third season for the club after previously having played for London Irish from 2005-2008. The 27 year old is guaranteed to make the Pumas squad for Rugby World Cup 2011 but cannot afford to have a below par season like he did in 2009-2010 when he was diappointing for both club and country. After underperforming for Argentina vs Scotland in the two June tests this year he was replaced by Agen´s new recruit, Alejandro Campos who had a great match vs France. Leguizamón was a stand-out player for Stade Français in his debut season of 2008-2009 and should be targetting a repeat of this to make the XV vs England in Argentina´s Rugby World Cup 2011 opening fixture. He should be selected at 8 for Stade Français with Sergio Parisse (Italy) playing 6 and James Haskell (England) 7.

Leguizamón made his test debut vs Japan in 2005, scoring one try and securing his place in the team to play the British and Irish Lions in Wales. He has played a total of 34 tests and scored 6 tries for Argentina. He played in 6 of Argentina´s 7 matches at France 2007 and was a stand-out in the first match vs France. He scored two tries vs Namibia in the teams third match.

Argentine tight-head prop, Pedro Ledesma will be playing his fifth season for the club after having joined in 2006. He played tight-head prop in the championship winning side in 2007 but was not selected for Rugby World Cup 2007. He is the younger brother of Los Pumas veteran hooker, Mario Ledesma whom he played against in the 2007 Top 14 Final. The 25 year old has suffered a series of unfortunate injuries which have kept him out of rugby for long periods of time. He made his test debut for Argentina vs Italy in 2008 and his second and last appearance vs South Africa, also in 2008. He had to leave the field vs the Springboks after badly injuring his knee in the eighth minute of the match.

Given that he was included in Argentina´s first set of test matches after Rugby World Cup 2007 he is certainly a real candidate for New Zealand 2011. Firstly, he needs to get sufficient game time for his club, which he should do so now that he is fully fit.

Young Pumas second-rower, Santiago Guzman, has signed a one year contract with the club. It will be the first taste of professional rugby for the 21 year old who made his test debut for Argentina vs Scotland in June. In being selected for Los Pumas he was prefered to professional players such as Esteban Lozada (Edinburgh) and Mariano Sambucetti (Bristol) who represented Argentina in November 2009. He previously captained Argentina´s under 20 team. With this fantastic contract, Guzman is now ideally placed to push for selection for New Zealand 2011.

Argentina´s first choice outside centre, Gonzalo Tiesi has joined the club on a two year contract after playing five years of rugby in England. He previously played for London Irish from 2005-2008 and for Harlequins from 2008-2010. His move to France will reunite him with former London Irish colleague and close friend, Juan Leguizamón.

Tiesi was only 19 when he made his test debut for Argentina in 2004 vs South Africa. He was selected after performing well for his Buenos Aires team, San Isidro Club. Tiesi was Argentina´s first choice centre in 2005 and 2006 but was used as back up to Manuel Contepomi during Rugby World Cup 2007. In France 2007 he played in three of Argentina´s matches and scored one try. Since then, however, he has regained the 13 shirt and made it his own. He missed two tests in 2008 due to injury but has played in all tests since then. He arrives at Stade Français having plated 26 tests but being aged only 25. He is likely to play 13 with Mathieu Bastareaud being used more at 12 to replace the poor centres from last season - Guillaume Boussès, Geoffroy Messina and Brian Liebenberg.

24 year old Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga will be joining Stade Français from Atletico del Rosario in Argentina. He is a highly talented back who can play fullback or inside centre. He made his mark playing sevens rugby for Argentina and was selected for Los Pumas in November 2009 in place of the injured trio of Marcelo Bosch, Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martín Hernández. Rodríguez not only played in all three tests, vs England, Wales and Scotland but he also scored all of Argentina´s points during the tour. This did two things for his career - attracted Stade Français who signed him early in 2010 for the next two seasons and it showed selectors how useful he really could be for Los Pumas.

He played 12 vs England, Wales and Scotland but his natural position is 15. Horacio Agulla was kept at fullback for these matches but with Contepomi fit again, Rodríguez was selected at fullback for Argentina in all three tests in June 2010. He has played all 6 tests since making his Pumas debut and has already secured his place in the squad for New Zealand 2011. With a season at Stade Français ahead of him, Argentina are set to have a great player become even better. It is fair to suggest that he will play 15 for the club with Scotland´s Hugo Southwell being moved to the wing or dropped to the bench.

In addition, Italy´s Argentine born captain Sergio Parisse will be playing his sixth season for the club and his first as captain.

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