Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Rodrigo Roncero

It is hard to find a more respected loosehead prop than Rodrigo Roncero. With a professional career spanning more than a decade, the 35 year old veteran is the last remaining member of the acclaimed frontrow that took Argentina to the Bronze Medal at Rugby World Cup 2007. His combination with Mario Ledesma and Omar Hasan was not only the leading frontrow of the tournament but the best of a generation. It was re-enforced significantly with Martín Scelzo and Marcos Ayerza both avaliable as replacements. The scrum that set the platform for Agustín Pichot and Juan Martín Hernández to run their magic at France 2007 had Roncero as a key component. He was not, however a long time starter for the team despite having had made his test debut in 1998. The depth of Argentine rugby in the frontrow was so strong that Roncero had only become a regular in 2004, six years after his test debut vs Japan. 

Roncero playing for Gloucester
His inernational debut was a good one with Argentina defeating Japan 44-29 in Tokyo. It was a one off appearance for Roncero, however, as his next appearance in international colors was four years latter as he was recalled to face Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. He scored his first test try vs Chile. One year earlier, Roncero had become a professional player as he was signed from Buenos Aires´ Deportiva Francesca to play in England for Gloucester. His two year deal saw him make a name for himself and earn his place in Argentina´s squad for Rugby World Cup 2003. Before the tournament, he played one warm up match, in which Argentina defeated Fiji and had a memorable performance as he dominated his opponents and scored two tries in the 49-30 win at Córdoba. He played vs Namibia and Romania in Australia 2003 but was not selected for the key matches vs Australia and Ireland. 

Roncero for Stade Français
The following year saw momentous changes in Roncero´s career as he moved to France to play for Stade Français and became Argentina´s leading loosehead prop. He started tests vs France, Ireland, New Zealand and Wales with the key being Los Pumas´s victory in Marseilles which marked France´s first ever loss in the city. He has since held the position down as his own only rarely being replaced by Leicester and England´s leading loosehead prop, Marcos Ayerza. The strong competition from Ayerza only served for Roncero to ensure he continued to perform well. Ayerza put in a strong performance in Argentina´s history making 25-18 triumph at Twickenham in 2006 with Roncero unavaliable due to a broken jaw. He recovered to come back in better form and after helping Stade Français to the 2007 French Championship title, Roncero left his mark at the World Cup as he started the pool matches vs France, Namibia and Ireland and the knock-out matches vs Scotland, South Africa and France.  

Bronze Final Triumph
Roncero´s performances at Rugby World Cup 2007 earned him plenty of praise with many comentators calling him the best frontrower of the tournament. With Omar Hasan retiring, Roncero´s new partner was Martín Scelzo and the pair together continued the high standards of Pumas scrumaging. Both Roncero and Hasan had been nominated by the IRB as the best props in the history of the Rugby World Cup. Known as the Dream XV, Hasan was voted in by fans worldwide on the social networks of twitter and facebook as the best ever tighthead prop while Roncero was a finalist for loosehead. This reputation was a reminder of his talents and of all the props representing all twenty participants at Rugby World Cup 2011, only Roncero was amongst the nominated players. He went on to start against England, Romania, Scotland and New Zealand, forming a solid frontrow with the young Juan Figallo having been refered to Martín Scelzo.

Now, in his twlight at 35 years of age it is not likely that he will be around for much longer but he is, nonetheless, a player far from needing to be put on the shelf. He is yet to announce his international retirement and is highly likely to play this year for his country in the June Internationals as well as The Rugby Championship. The temptation of playing for Los Pumas in the teams debut season in The Rugby Championship is likely to be too strong for Roncero as the possibility of retirement continues to be a hot topic in Argentine rugby circles. His post-rugby future is known, however, as Roncero is a qualified doctor. 

Week Three: Marcelo Bosch
Week Four: Agustín Creevy
Week Eight: Rodrigo Roncero
Week Nine: Gonzalo Camacho

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