Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Marcos Ayerza - Outstanding Loosehead Prop

28 year old, Marcos Ayerza is heading into New Zealand 2011 as one of the best if not the worlds best loosehead prop. He has consistently been regarded as the best in his position in England during his career based on his scrummaging abilities and on field presence. Before his professional career began in 2006, Ayerza had already made his international debut for Argentina as an amateur player from Cardinal Newman in Buenos Aires. Like most Pumas players his place in the side came about due to an international fixture taking place at a time in which Argentina was denied access to its professional players. But unlike most, Ayerza had the task of debuting against an elite side, South Africa in December 2004.

His international call up came at the age of 21 and followed his rise through the ranks of Argentine rugby. Ayerza had played for the under 19 and under 21 Argentina teams, including at both the 2003 and 2004 under 21 World Championships. He also made the Buenos Aires Select team before being selected for Argentina A in 2004. The next two years would see his go from a Buenos Aires club loosehead prop to a world class player. He won three international caps in 2005, including his first international try vs Japan in April. After impressing in 2005 he had attracted interest from European clubs and signed a contract to play in England for the Leicester Tigers. he would arrive at the club in 2006 after playing international matches vs Wales and Chile. With Rodrigo Roncero out with a broken jaw Ayerza was selected to start at loosehead prop vs England in November 2006 and his performance was nothing less than a huge success. It underlined his abilities and his future as one of the leading players in the game.



Ayerza played three further tests in 2006 as he went up against Uruguay, Italy and France and also started both tests vs Ireland in June 2007. His form saw him included in Argentina´s squad for France 2007 and we went on to play two matches, vs Georgia and the Bronze Final vs France as coach Marcelo Loffreda opted to field an experienced frontrow combination of Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma and Martín Scelzo. After Argentina´s impressive campaign at Rugby World Cup 2007, Ayerza went on to play six tests the following year. Considered to be a loosehead prop by the new Pumas coach, Santiago Phelan, Ayerza started two tests only and was a bench replacement for the other fixtures with Phelan selecting Pedro Ledesma and Juan Pablo Orlandi to play tighthead prop in place of the injured Martín Scelzo and the retired Omar Hasan.

In 2009, Ayerza began the year as a replacement but after Orlandi was outplayed in the first test vs England, Ayerza was selected at tighthead prop with Roncero playing loosehead. The result was encouraging as Argentina defeated England in Salta with the scrum performing significantly better and Ayerza impressing with his performance in general. Martín Scelzo returned from injury to take his place at 3 for Argentina in the November internationals vs England, Wales and Scotland which meant Ayerza was on the bench with Roncero playing looshead prop. However, after impressing off the bench, Ayerza was prefered at loosehead prop for the match vs Scotland and there was no coincidence that Los Pumas had a superior scrum. Roncero regained his place for all of Argentina´s matches in 2010 but when Ayerza was on the field it was clear that the Pumas were scrumaging better and lost nothing in mobility around the park. As such it is only logical to suggest that Ayerza should be Argentina´s first choice loosehead prop for New Zealand 2011. Roncero is six  years older than Ayerza and lacks the endurance that he previously had. Ayerza, in contrast is an 80 minute player who offers more to his side starting than by coming off the bench. As of July 2010, Marcos Ayerza has played 32 international test matches for Argentina and it is likely that this total will more than double before his time is up playing international rugby for Argentina.



Upon arriving at English powerhouses, the Leicester Tigers in 2006 Ayerza quickly established himself as the teams leading loosehead prop. During his time at Leicester, Ayerza, has improved as a player and has left his mark on English rugby. In his first season he reached the Heineken Cup Final as Leicester faced English rivals, London Wasps at Twickenham. Leicester were defeated but Ayerza tasted glory the same month as the Tigers reversed the result in defeating London Wasps in the English Premiership Final, then known as the Guinness Premiership. The following year, Ayerza was a finalist in the Guinness Premiership as the Tigers were defeated by the London Wasps with former Pumas coach, Marcelo Loffreda in charge of Leicester. Ayerza went on to win the Guinness Premiership Final in 2009 and 2010 as the Tigers defeated London Irish and Saracens to win back-to-back titles. The clubs run came to an end in 2011 as Saracens knocked over Leicester to win its first ever English Championship, now known as the Aviva Premiership. Ayerza was also a Heineken Cup finalist for the second time in 2009 when the Tigers lost the final vs Irish side, Leinster at Murrayfield in Scotland.

His impressive record of playing for Leicester in five English Premiership Finals and two Heineken Cup Finals has seen Marcos Ayerza play well over 100 matches of top flight rugby for Leicester. Ayerza played 25 Aviva Premiership matches for Leicester in the 2010-2011 season, mostly alongside fellow Argentine prop, Martín Castrogiovanni who, despite being born in Argentina, is an Italian international prop. The pair have long term contracts with Leicester and form the best scrum in England. Both will feature at Rugby World Cup 2011 with Ayera highly likely to take over the Pumas #1 shirt from the long serving Rodrigo Roncero as Ayerza can offer more endurance, field presence and superior scrumaging. 2011 could be the year in which not only the English rugby public, but the world talk of Ayerza as being the best in the game.

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