Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players To Watch - Juan Figallo

Following the retirement of Omar Hasan in 2008 Argentina were left with a massive burden that some felt could not possibly be filled. New Pumas headcoach, Santiago Phelan named two new props in his squad for Argentina´s November tour that year. They were Juan Orlandi and Juan Figallo. Orlandi was playing his rugby in Italy for Rovigo and he was considered by Argentine assistant coach and Rugby World Cup 1999 and 2003 prop Mauricio Reggiardo as being a player of real potential. Orlandi´s chance came in the first test of the November tour when he started vs France at tighthead prop. His performances were not to the level of Hasan or the injuured Martín Scelzo but he, nevertheless, impressed enough to attract the interest of Top 14 club Racing Métro. The Parisian club signed him for the 2009-2010 season and he remains at the club today. His place in Los Pumas, however, proved to not be long term as he lost the Pumas tighthead position in June 2009 and has been unable to win it back. Phelan did not select Orlandi for Rugby World Cup 2011 instead opting for the youthful pair of Juan Figallo and Maximilano Bustos to join the experienced trio of Rodrigo Roncero, Martín Scelzo and Marcos Ayerza. 

The same season that Orlandi joined Racing Métro was also the same time that Figallo joined Montpellier to also play at the elite level in France. Figallo had toured Europe in November with Los Pumas but had been selected as a young player, aged only 21 and did not recieve any game time. Phelan had picked the young Salta prop as he saw great potential in him but did not think the timing was correct for him to play at the senior level. He would, infact, have to wait 24 months to make his test debut as he was injured for the November 2009 tour of Europe and therefore missed out altogether. His debut came vs France from the bench in Argentina´s record breaking 41-13 victory vs France. He then featured vs Italy and France in November 2010, again both times from the bench. Debuting vs France is not a normal thing as while Figallo debuted vs France, virtually all other Pumas made their first appearances vs South American opposition. 

Figallo at loosehead prop for Montpellier
With Phelan leaving out Orlandi from Argentina´s World Cup squad it came as a surprize to many to see five props named. Orlandi had been seen as a bench player and a possibility to start vs Romania and Georgia at tighthead prop. Phelan had other ideas and he shocked many people by naming Figallo at tighthead prop to face Wales in Argentina´s only official warm-up match before Rugby World Cup 2011. Figallo was starting for Argentina for the first time ever and it was Argentina´s last match before taking on England to open the World Cup campaign for both teams. Figallo´s selection was not such a surprize, howver, to followers of French rugby. His inclusion in the starting XV was welcomed but it did have an unexpected side to it as he had been used all season for Montpellier at loosehead prop. Figallo was a key player for Montpellier in the teams history making appearance in the Top 14 Final last season. He went up against the highly regarded Samoan prop, Census Johnson in the frontrow. The 130KG monster was on the backfoot, however as Figallo controlled the scrums and also ahd a highly visible performance around the park. He recieved plenty of praise from the French media and live commentary during the final. 

Figallo, Ledesma and Roncero
The result was that he had gone ahead of veteran 35 year old Martín Scelzo and had earned Argentina´s #3 shirt. In New Zealand 2011 he proved to be the right choice as he lived up to the reputation of being a Pumas tighthead prop and made the #3 shirt his own. Figallo  packed down in the frontrow with the veteran pair of Rodrigo Roncero at looshead prop and Mario Ledesma at hooker. Figallo won the award for being the best player from Pool B in the World Cup and started every match of the World Cup for Argentina. He stood out in the scrums and on defence. He also came within an inch of scoring a try vs England. Had he scored, Argentina would have gone on to win the match. The following week he went over for a try vs Romania, his first in international rugby. 

With Argentina set to play twelve tests in 2012 and debut in The Rugby Championship the skills of Figallo will become more known than ever before. His physique is ideal for a tighthead prop and he has the potential to really stand out and deliver for his country. Teams facing Argentina who are not strong in the frontrow could suffer greatly with Australia appearing to be such an example as the Wallabies continue to lack players of quality at both loosehead and tighthead prop. Figallo is now likely to lead Argentina forward together with Marcos Ayerza and Agustín Creevy as the new look frontrow. 

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
Week Thirteen: Santiago Fernández

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