Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Patricio Albacete

It is no exaggeration to say that Patricio Albacete is the best Argentine secondrower of his generation. Nor is it to say that he has been the best secondrower in France for a period of more than five years. The 31 year old stands at 2 metres tall and weighs 123KG. He was Argentina´s main lineout jumper in Rugby World Cup 2007 and was constantly seen around the park acting as a ball-carrier with great regularity. But what makes him such a key player for club and country is not his lineout work or ball carrying abilities but his agility as he is able to get around the park very well for someone in his position. His physical build is ideal for the position from a stereotypical perspective but his workrate goes is what makes him such a good player as he gets through much more work than what would be expected of him. He looms as being one of Argentina´s most important players this year with the South Americans set to debut in The Rugby Championship. Despite having accomplished so much he remains largely unknown in Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby circles due to the simple fact that Argentina has played so few tests against the three founding members of the Tri Nations. Incredibly, outside of World Cup´s Albacete has played only one test against the All Blacks and Springboks and has never faced the Wallabies.  

Albacete vs Australia, RWC 03
The man known in Argentine rugby circles as Pato has been a first choice player for his country ever since making his debut vs Paraguay in April 2003. Spotted at an early age by former Los Pumas boss, Marcelo Loffreda, Albacete was quickly turned into a first choice player following his arrival in Argentina´s 144-0 win over vs the Paraguayans. There was only a matter of months before the World Cup was to start but Loffreda was convinced that he was a special player and selected him for the tournament, joining Ignacio Fernández Lobbe in the secondrow and forcing Perpignan´s Rimas Alvarez Kairelis to the bench. The same three players would be used the same way four years latter and following the retirement of both, Albacete´s role has changed, making him one of the leaders in the pack. 

Albacete vs Ireland, RWC 07
In 2007 Albacete was surrounded by big name forwards with Pumas legends such as Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, Omar Hasan, Mario Ledesma and Gonzalo Longo joining him in the engine room. All have since gone to retirement as have many backs, with Argentina´s 2011 World Cup captain, Felipe Contepomi likely to make the 2012 season his last in Pumas colors. The void will be filled by a forward with the next captain to be either Juan Fernández Lobbe of Toulon of Patricio Albacete. Pato has the credentials to be a superb captain and will be aged 34 come Rugby World Cup 2015, the same age as Contepomi at New Zealand 2011. He is hihgly likely to still be Argentina´s leading secondrower in 2015 and would therefore join the elite club of players to have played at four Rugby World Cup´s. 

Albacete has a decorated career which started well in Buenos Aires with the awarding in 2002 of revelation of the year. He had gone through the ranks of Argentine rugby, starting with Club Manuel Belgrano which saw him play for the under 15 and under 20 teams. He quickly made the Buenos Aires selection at age grade and senior level, winning the Argentine Championship in 1998 and captaining the team in 1999 and 2000, still aged below 20. He also captained Argentina at under 19 level in 1999 and 2000 and then at under 21 level in 2001 and 2002. He was Buenos Aires´ captain in the under 20 and under 21 teams and captain in 2001 and 2002 as well as a finalist at senior level in 2001 and then a champion in 2002 and 2003.  This impressive list underlines his talent which was spotted from a very young age and could very well see him go on to captain Argentina, starting this year. 

Albacete for Toulouse
Albacete became a professional player after Australia 2003, joining the then French Top 14 club, Colomiers on a one year contract. He then moved to play for Pau for two seasons in the Top 14 and won player of the year for the club. In 2006 Albacete joined Toulouse on a four year contract and has since signed another. With Toulouse, Albacete has had tremendous success from a an individual standpoint and for the team. The bible of French rugby, Midi Olympique named Albacete as the best secondrower every year from 2006-2011 and in the ideal XV in each of these years. In 2007, Albacete won the award for being Toulouse´s best player. The same year saw Albacete win the award voted on by players and journalists as the best Pumas player at the World Cup. His form has not faded since with Albacete winning the award fo being Argentina´s best rugby player in 2010 and again in 2011. 

Patricio Albacete - Heineken Cup Final
Heineken Cup Glory
With Toulouse, Albacete has done it all. Having been a beaten finalist in the 2005 European Challenge Cup with Pau, Albacete went beyond this by winning the Heineken Cup with Toulouse in 2010. He is also a two time French champion having won the Top 14 final in 2008 and 2011. On all occasions Pato has done so in the number five shirt. Toulouse´s desire to have him see out his professional career at the club remains highly likely with Toulouse having him on its books until Rugby World Cup 2015. Albacete has, however, said that he has a desire to play one season in Japan before hanging up his boots.

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

Week Ten: Patricio Albacete
Week Eleven: Horacio Agulla

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