Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Stars since 2007 - Agustín Figuerola

Former Pumas captain, Agustín Pichot played his final test for Argentina in the Bronze Final of Rugby World Cup 2007. His boots were never going to be easy to fill and indeed this is how it has been since 2007. Argentina have used three scrumhalves during this period. Nicolas Vergallo was first choice for 2008 and the start of 2009 before Alfredo Lalanne got a chance in the home test win over England in June of that year. For the november tour of Europe in 2009 both were used as was Agustín Figuerola and it was still not clear as to which player should be Pichot´s replacement as Los Pumas first choice number 9 at New Zealand 2011. All three players have picked up professional contracts for top level sides with Vergallo playing two seasons for Dax before joining Toulouse in 2010, Lalanne joined London Irish in 2008 and Figuerola joined Brive in 2010. The move to Europe helped all three players tremendously but the one to impress the most has been Figuerola playing for Brive in the 2010-2011 season. He took his chance and received plenty of game time and this translated into move game time at international level where he has underlined himself as Pichot´s replacement. Or so it seemed as Figuerola was left out of Argentina´s squad for Rugby World Cup 2011.

Before joining Brive, Figuerola, played his rugby in Buenos Aires for the same club as Pichot, CASI. During his time at the club he has earned the nick-name El Nuevo Pichot (The New Pichot). It was not only due to him playing in Pichot´s position but also due to his playing style and, indeed, talent. His time at CASI saw him attract the interest of Argentine rugby authorities and he played for Argentina at under 21 level in 2006. He went on to play for Los Jaguares and the Pumas Sevens side and was Argentina´s scrumhalf at the 2009 Ruby Sevens World Cup in Dubai in which Argentina finished second. The Pumas Sevens side featured multilpe players who have  gone on to play professional rugby in Europe and to play test rugby for Argentina. Figuerola was jonied by players including Gonzalo Camacho, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga, Horacio San Martín and Martin Bustos Moyano. Figuerola, like all others made it to the top following the Argentine club system.

Born January 27, 1985,  Figuerola was a young player when he made his international debut but, unlike the vast majority, his first appearance did not come against a South American country. His debut came in 2008 as a replacement for Nicolas Vergallo in Argentina´s 22-14 victory over Italy in Torino. The following week he again was used as a replacement in the loss against Ireland and his third appearance came vs England as a replacement at Twickenham in November 2009. Figuerola´s run-on debut came one week after the match vs England as Wales hosted Los Pumas. His performance was not a dream debut as Argentina were defeated by a strong Welsh team. Figuerola was a replacement in the win over Scotland one week latter and also played two matches vs Scotland in 2010. He missed the 2010 tour of Europe through injury.
Despite having played seven tests for Los Pumas, Figuerola had not had impressed enough to be guaranteed a place in Rugby World Cup 2011. Only two of his test appearances were in the starting XV. His chances changed greatly, however, in late 2010 as he signed to play in France for Top 14 side, Brive. His move to France came after impressive performances for Los Pampas XV in South Africa´s Vodacom Cup in which he was the teams first choice scrumhalf ni 2010. His move to Brive was to give the club cover at scrumhalf but by the end of the season, Figuerola was the sides leading scrumhalf and also one of the best backs. The team did not have its best season, as it was near relegation but is likely to do better in 2011-2012 and Figuerola will recieve increasingly more game time.

Following the completion of the Top 14 Orange regular season, Figuerola returned to Argentina and was named at scrumhalf to play the French Barbarians in Avallaneda near Buenos Aires. Argentina was missing countless players who were still playing for their French clubs in the Top 14 play-off´s and others who had been rested. Figuerola was thus put to the test in that he would have to organize the Pumas side, a team featuring numerous players who will not make the World Cup squad. His performance underlined his progress with Brive as he looked like a superior player and scored his first try for Argentina. Figuerola´s performances over the past 12 months have been better than previously and, as such, he is likely to going to try to place the best rugby of his career to show Santiago Phelan and so that they got the selections wrong.

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