Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Juan Martín Hernández

Juan Martín Hernández
Twenty-Nine year old Juan Martín Hernández is a name known very well to any serious rugby fan. It is, however, thought of by some that it is not a name that means as much today as it once did due to the multiple serious injuries which he has sustained since Rugby World Cup 2007.  known in France as "El Mago", or "the magician", did not earn the name by chance. It came about as a result of his skills on the rugby field. The skills that saw him rise from a young age to become the best fullback and then flyhalf in France, and do so all by the age of 25. It happened due to his hard work combined with brilliant natural ability. His skills are nothing less than elite. Superb tackling, passing, running and reading of a match. 

Hernandez appeared at Rugby World Cup 2003 as a 21 year old did so only having had made his Pumas debut made his debut several months earlier. It was at fullback vs Paraguay with Hernández scoring one try and converting two in Argentina´s 144-0 victory. The following week he earned his second cap, vs Uruguay and again started at fullback. It may not have been against tier one opposition but Hernández, nevertheless, had impressed and coach Marcelo Loffreda selected him for Argentina´s two home tests in June 2003 vs France and the teams away match vs South Africa. Hernández started two of the three matches at fullback and scored a try vs both powerhouse opponents. Following a final warmup clash vs Canada, Hernández was confirmed in Argentina´s World Cup squad and would go on to play in three matches, scoring two tries vs Romania.  

Try saving tackle on Tuilagi
Despite having had an impressive debut year for Argentina, Hernández was still an amateur player and 2004 would prove to be a year of massive changes. he would trade his Buenos Aires club of Deportiva Francesca for French powerhouses, Stade Francais. In quick time the young fullback turned into one of the best backs in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup and was a French champion in his debut season with Stade Français. In 2006, hernández left a permanent mark on the Heineken Cup with a superb performance in a losing side in an away Quarter Final vs the Leicester Tigers. Hernández scored an impressive try and shoulder-tackled Alesana Tuilagi into the corner flag to prevent a certain try. The same year, in France ,he won the award of fullback of the year. 

vs Ireland, RWC 2007

The year 2006 was just about warming up the engines however as 2007 saw his reputation go from talented player to best in the business. After having changed position to be Stade Français´ flyhalf in combination with Agustín Pichot at scrumhalf, he was ready for something special. Hernández was in hot form having won the French Championship and after was named at 10 for Argentina to open Rugby World Cup 2007 against the host nation, France.  Hernández was vital to his teams´success, as Argentina modeled a game plan around his kicking skills and knocked over the hosts on their own turf. Two weeks latter the world was treated to the flyhalf performance of the World Cup as Hernández slotted three dropgoal vs Ireland but more importantly, had the game in the palm of his hand as he organized play superbly.  It saw him nominated as one of four players for the prestigious IRB Player of the Year award for 2007, won by South Africa´s Bryan Habana. 

Hernández the Shark
The next four years were not as good as Hernández had problems with the Stade Français management which saw him take up an offer to play for the Sharks in South Africa. It was a one year deal, involving Currie Cup and Super Rugby but he only played Currie Cup rugby after having been forced into back surgery. Despite being below 100% his time with the Sharks was, nonetheless, successful. In mid 2010 Hernández signed for Racing Métro to return to the Top 14. His two seasons at the club have also been injury depleted. He had a spell on the sidelines with a thigh injury and then a serious knee injury in March 2011. His knee problems meant he would take no part in Rugby World Cup 2011. His last test appearance was vs England in 2009 - with Hernández directing the team to a good win.

Hernández returned to the field for Racing Métro after the World Cup and has been making progress with the club. While some critics say he is not what he once was he has nonetheless, got three solid offers to consider - stay at Racing Métro, return to Stade Français or play Super Rugby for the Auckland Blues. The offers firmly suggest that his reputation remains strong. With Felipe Contepomi now aged 34 and Santiago Fernández prefered as n inside centre, Los Pumas´ 10 shirt is certainly going to be worn by Juan Martín Hernández this year. He has the chance of shouwing the Southern hemisphere just how good Argentina is at rugby.

Week Three: Marcelo Bosch
Week Four: Agustín Creevy
Week Five: Juan Martín Hernández
Week Six: Martín Bustos Moyano

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