Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Horacio Agulla

Following the injury to José Mario Nuñez Piossek in Argentina´s final Warm-up match, against Belgium of all teams, before Rugby World Cup 2007, Pumas Headcoach, Marcelo Loffreda was left without a starting winger for France 2007. Lucas Borges was certain to start with Ignacio Corleto being the teams fullback following the positional change of Juan Martín Hernández to flyhalf. This meant that the option of Corleto playing wing was not going to transpire and Argentina would be forced to field a player lacking test match experience just two weeks latter to open the World Cup vs France in Paris. The player who was selected was the then unknown Horacio Agulla. With only five tests caps to his name and still playing as an amateur for Hindu in Buenos Aires, Horacio Agulla was suddenly playing for his country in the biggest match of his life as a 22 year old.

Longo holds Agulla after winning
the Quarter Final vs Scotland
Selected ahead of Hernán Senillosa and Federico Martín Aramburu, the occassion did not get the better of him as his defence proved to be highly effective and it was his intercept pass that won Argentina the match as he latched onto a wobbly pass from Remy Martin before off-loading to Manuel Contepomi who set Ignacio Corleto free for the try which changed the script of Rugby World Cup 2007. With Argentina going through the pool phase undefeated, for the first time in Rugby World Cup history, Agulla was a regular and  after being rested for the clash with Georgia he returned to face Namibia and every match thereafter in the Tournament. He got his name on the try scores sheet as he went over after collecting a pass from backrower Gonzalo Longo which proved decisive in swining a back and forward first half in favor of Los Pumas. 

Agulla´s rise was, indeed from humble beginnings. His rise to Los Pumas came before the PladAR system had been created and of all the players featuring in the 2007 World Cup Semi Finals he was the only amateur player. As Argentina was getting past the difficulties occuring in the country´s rugby set up in the middle stages of the decade, Agulla was one of the role models for Argentina as he had made it into the senior team and stayed there on his own as he didn´t have a professional club or union to sustain him. The 2006 European Tour had been were Agulla had established himself in the Pumas squad. He played in two of Argentina´s three tests. He started vs Italy in Rome on the left wing with Ignacio Corleto playing right wing. One week earlier, he had come on as a replacement vs England in Argentina´s first ever win over England at Twickenham. During the prematch stages of that game Agulla was seen walking with a limp a and it has since become known that he has a physical disorder known as Legg–Calvé–Perthes syndrome in which his right leg is 3cm longer than his left. As such he walks with a limp and this can be noticed when he is entering the field from the changing sheds. 

Agulla playing French Rugby for Brive
In the aftermath of Rugby World Cup 2007 Agulla was offered a professional contract to play in the Top 14 for the newly promoted Dax. The club struggled to adapt to the demands of the Top 14 and alognside Auch was relegated back to the Pro d2. Agulla had been a regular starter in the team and as such had attracted offers to join rival clubs and he Signed a two year deal to play for Brive from 2008-2010. While at Brive he matured greatly as a player and was a regular in the team playing usually on the wing but occassionaly he was used at fullback. With Corleto being unavaliable to Santiago Phelan and Glasgow Warriors fullback, Bernardo Stortoni´s defensive style not serving Argentina as desired, Agulla was moved to fullback in 2009 for Los Pumas. His first game in the position was vs Ireland at Croke Park in November 2008 and he played there for the next seven tests before returning to the left wing to face Scotland in June 2010.

Try time for Leicester
Phelan had a new fullback, Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga who had come through the PladAR system and was heading to Stade Français the following season. Agulla, too, was changing clubs as after two seasons with Brive he took up an offer to play in England for the Leicester Tigers. He linked up with fellow Pumas winger Lucas González Amorosino and loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza. The chance of Agulla and Amorosino forming a combination for Leicester never transpired as te English club used Amorosino so rarely. Agulla, however, was used regularly by Leicester in his first season and started for the club in its Heineken Cup and Aviva Premiership play-offs matches. This put Agulla in good form ahead of the World Cup and he played in all of Los Pumas´ matches, starting them all on the wing.

Following Argentina´s Quarter Finals elimination Agulla returned to Leicester for his second season at the club. The ongoing season has proven to be the best of his career with Agulla winning the award of Player of Month in December and having been the teams starting right winger for all of the Aviva Premiership, Heineken Cup and LV= Cup. He has proven to be indispensible for Leicester yet the club has been not happy with his probable involvement in the 2012 Rugby Championship and as such has said it will be releasing him at the end of the current season. The UAR has been assisting Agulla in negotations for his to remain at the club and Agulla has himself said that his desire is to stay on with Leicester. Should he leave, however, he does have offers from other European clubs and Agulla has also said he is open to the possibility of playing Super Rugby. But his commitment to the Pumas jersey is what drives him. Given the choice of a professional salary at Leicester or playing in The Rugby Championship, Agulla has said he would choose Los Pumas. His attitude is comendable and an indication of the quality of a man that is Horacio Agulla. He is also a quality player with plenty left to give as he is still only 27 years old and remains a strong candidate to compete at a third Rugby World Cup. 
Week Three: Marcelo Bosch
Week Four: Agustín Creevy
Week Eight: Rodrigo Roncero
Week Nine: Gonzalo Camacho

Week Ten: Patricio Albacete
Week Eleven: Horacio Agulla
Week Twelve: Juan Figallo

1 comment:

  1. Rugby is a popular sport in Argentina but it is associated with the upper classes. I went to see a game when I was there. It turned out that the buenos aires apartments I rented were close to a stadium and I felt like going. I saw Agustin Pichot (the most famous Argentine rugby player) and I thought he was amazing (and I know nothing about this sport). I just had fun watching the ritual Rugby players have befor the beginning of a match!