Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Juan Fernández Lobbe - World Class Backrower

Los Pumas vice-captain, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe is among the best backrowers in the world. Whether it be playing at number 8 or on the side of the scrum, Fernández Lobbe is a big name player. His professional and international career has brought him many accolades including best number 8 playing in France. In addition to being regarded as an outstanding player he is also considered as being a natural leader and as captained professional teams in both England and France. He seems to have defied age as he is yet to turn 30. The good news for rugby fans is there are to be plenty of opportunities yet to see Fernández Lobbe play. He looms as Argentina´s key loose forward for New Zealand 2011 and if reputation and form are anything to go by then he looks likely to be a standout performer at the tournament.

He made his debut for Argentina as a 22 year old vs Uruguay in 2004 alongside fellow Pumas backrower, Alvaro Galindo. Three days latter he played against Venezuela. His big chance, however, came in november 2005 when he was selected as part of the Los Pumas squad to tour Europe and he started at number 8 against both Scotland and Italy. At this stage of his career he was still based in Buenos Aires playing for Liceo Naval, however his impressive performances particularly vs Scotland attracted the attention of european clubs and he signed a three year contract to link up with his older brother, retire Pumas secondrower, Ignacio Fernández Lobbe at Sale Sharks. Before arriving in England, however, Juan Fernández Lobbe played three internationals for his country in June 2006, scoring two tries against Wales in the two match series victory and playing well in the 25-19 home loss vs New Zealand. He had successfully moved to play in the 7 shirt with Argentina looking to build a solid backrow with Gonzalo Longo playing 8.

In Argentina´s november 2006 tour of Europe, he started in all three matches and put in a solid performance vs England in the historical 25-18 victory at Twickenham. Argentina had found its man for the 7 shirt. In 2007 he started in two wins vs Ireland and one vs Italy before the build up to France 2007 had started. He played every minute of every match for Argentina at Rugby World Cup 2007 as Los Pumas performed superbly to finish third in the world. His importance to his country increased in 2008 following the international retirement of a number of senior players including his brother. After playing 7 in the June international matches, Juan Fernández Lobbe returned to the 8 shirt for the november tests vs France and Italy as Juan Leguizamón was missing due to injury. Leguizamón returned for the third match of the tour, vs Ireland which saw Fernández Lobbe play in the 7 shirt and with Felipe Contepomi missing to injury Fernández Lobbe got the call up to captain Argentina.

Contepomi missed all of Argentina´s international matches in 2009 with a knee injury which saw Fernández Lobbe captain his country in all of Argentina´s matches and did so playing 8. He led Argentina to a home victory over England and an away victory vs Scotland. His performance in the loss vs Wales earned him plenty of praise with some experts calling him the best 8 in the world. In 2010 he held onto the 8 shirt with Leguizamón playing on the side of the scrum. He again played in all of Argentina´s matches that year, scoring a try vs France in the process. He missed the June 2011 international vs the French Barbarians as Argentina opted to field an experimental side to test out players ahead of Rugby World Cup 2011.

Juan Fernández Lobbe made his English Premiership debut for the Sale Sharks in the 2006-2007 season vs the Leicester Tigers and after securing his regular place in the starting XV in quick time, Fernández Lobbe matured as a player and a leader. He was selected as club captain of the Sale Sharks for the 2008-2009 season. After seeing out his contract he moved to France to play for Toulon alongside Contepomi. In his two seasons at Toulon thus far he has helped the club to a first ever Heineken Cup Quarter Final, an Amlin Challenge Cup Final and an appearance in the Top 14 play-off´s. Toulon were Semi-Finalists in 2009-2010 and Fernández Lobbe was a key performer in the campaign and was named as one of the best three Top 14 players of the season. As such he was in the Top 14 dream team in his first playing rugby in France. Fernández Lobbe has also captained Toulon on multiple occassions. An imported player captaining leading teams in England and France is a rare thing, such is the quality of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe.

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