Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Leonardo Senatore

It is not often that a player can break clear from the back of a scrum to get passed two All Blacks backrowers,  let alone the pair of captain Richie McCaw and Crusaders teammate Kieran Read but this is what happened to put the name of Leonardo Senatore on the lips of commentators world wide in the World Cup Quarter Final clash at Eden Park last year. Senatore´s run set up the first try of the Quarter Final, and one of the best tries from the knock-out stages of the tournament. It also sent a reminder to the world of the force of Argentine rugby. When Felipe Contepomi slotted the conversion of the try scored by Julio Farías, the tournament favorites were behind on the scoreboard and the crowd was silenced - for the first time in the tournament the All Blacks had a real game on their hands. 

Senatore being tackled vs Georgia
The story of Senatore´s beautiful breakout run is more remarkable than just because of who the opposition were. Senatore had not been groomed as a player likely to feature at Rugby World Cup 2011. He had been a product of the post 2007 era of rebuilding but had been unable to secure a place in the team, or greater squad for Argentina´s home internationals in June and European tours in November from 2008-2010. He made his international debut in May 2008 vs Uruguay and played his second test vs Chile in November of the same year. His next test would come almost three years latter, vs Georgia in Palmerston North for Argentina´s final pool match of the World Cup. One week latter he was starting a World Cup Quarter Final. 

Playing for Los Pampas XV
His selection for Los Pumas in 2011 came as a result of his good form for Los Jaguares in the years from 2008-2011 and his form in the Vodacom Cup winning Los Pampas XV in 2011. Argentina had its share of injuries during this period but Senatore was never the player to get the call up for Los Pumas. Instead it was Alejandro Abadie, Alejandro Campos, Genario Fessia, Alvaro Galindo and Tomás Leonardi joining Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe in the backrow from 2008-2010. Despite having been a key player for Los Jaguares it was the 2011 Vodacom Cup that saw his rise to be a favored Pumas backrow option. When Santiago Phelan named Senatore in his World Cup squad it was evident that he was picked specifically as cover for Fernández Lobbe. The inital squad featured six backrowers - Campos, Farías, Fernández Lobbe, Galindo, Leguizamón and Senatore. Two were selected per position with Campos and Farías for 6, Galindo and Leguizamón for 7 and Fernández Lobbe and Senatore for 8. When Fernández Lobbe left the field vs Scotland with a serious knee injury, Senatore´s chance had come. Or had it? Argentina were in a battle to stay in the World Cup and Senatore was on the sidelines watching. Following the try of the World Cup, Senatore would get his chance one week latter. He started vs Georgia and following Argentina´s win the team went on to face New Zealand with Senatore picked at the base of the scrum. 

Toulon signing
Several weeks latter, Senatore was on a plane to France and in talks to play as a medical joker replacement for Fernández Lobbe at Toulon. Upon his arrival, Senatore quickly found his way into Toulon teamsheets and had a good first half in the current French season. Since the return of Joe van Niekerk from injury things have changed for Senatore however, and the club is set to stick to the temporary status of his medical joker contract. Whether he stays in Europe or returns to Argentina is unknown but what is certain is that he was able to have a successful stint with Toulon and did score a good try in the process. Should he return to Argentina he will certainly be signed on a permanent contract as one of the UAR Senior´s. His international future is also not in question with Senatore certain to play for his country in 2012 and likely to be in the starting XV. He could well force an adjustment to the Pumas backrow with Fernández Lobbe moving to 6. 

Week Three: Marcelo Bosch
Week Four: Agustín Creevy
Week Five: Juan Martín Hernández 
Week Six: Martín Bustos Moyano
Week Seven: Leonardo Senatore
Week Eight: Rodrigo Roncero

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