Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Santiago Fernández

November 22, 2008 was a date that no Pumas fan had wished for. It was Argentina facing Ireland at Croke Park without both its flyhalves and its third choice player too. Having been named to start, Juan Martín Hernández had to withdraw from playing one hour before kickoff. Felipe Contepomi had been ruled out of the match with an infection in his arm, while Marcelo Bosch had undergone shoulder reconstruction surgery and was unavaliable. In place of these three European professionals Argentina gave a first ever test start to 22 year old Santiago Fernández. He was a promising player, based in Buenos Aires playing for the Hindú club. He had made his international debut one week earlier vs Italy in Los Pumas´ 22-14 win in Torino. Headcoach Santiago Phelan had brought in on in the late stages to get some game time and he played on the wing. 

Fernández was a part of the PladAR system at the time of his debut for Los Pumas. He had been identified as a player of the future and in May 2009 he played in Los Jaguares´ home series matches vs Namibia. It was not his first time playing for the Argentina A side, however, as he had made his first appearance in 2007 playing in the IRB Nations Cup in Romania where he took on Italy A, Namibia and South Africa A. Around the same time that Los Jaguares were playing Namibia, Felipe Contepomi was playing for Leinster vs Munster in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. Contepomi started the match strongly but injured his knee badly and was forced to undergo surgery. As such, Argentina would not be able to field the 10-12 combination of Hernández and Contepomi at all in 2009. Phelan selected Miguel Avramovic at 12 to face England in Manchester with Fernández on the bench. The following week, Phelan made changes after Argentina had been badly beaten, and he went for the 10-12 combination of Hernández and Fernández. Los Pumas´s win in Salta that day was a defining moment in the transition from Rugby World Cup 2007 to 2011. From the 2007 team only Hernández and Horacio Agulla remained in the backline. Gonzalo Camacho and Lucas González Amorosino were new comers to the team with Agulla playing at fullback. It was also the final test for Rimas Alvarez Kairellis.

Fernández vs Wales, 2009
The changes for the June series proved to be beneficial for November 2009 when Argentina faced an nothing less than an injury crisis in the backs. Contepomi had not recovered from injury yet while Bosch had returned to play fullback for Biarritz only to badly injury his knee and require reconstruction surgery. Hernández was also forced out, with a back injury he picked up playing in South Africa that required surgery. This saw Santiago Fernández moving from 12 to 10 where he started in a new combination with the uncapped Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga for Argentina´s tour of England, Wales and Scotland. The pair played the full 80 minutes of the three tests despite both being amateur players. The lack of international experience didn´t stop Argentina collecting a narrow in at Murrayfield. The match underlined both players as ones for the future. 

The following year saw the creation of Los Pampas XV and the teams involvement in South Africa´s Vodacom Cup. Before the season had started Fernández had been rumoured to being offered a deal to play Super Rugby for either the Stormers in South Africa or the Western Force in Australia. Neither rumour proved to be true but following his involvement in the Vodacom Cup he was signed on a two year deal for Montpellier to play in the French Top 14 in May 2010. The following month he was starting at inside centre for Los Pumas with Felipe Contepomi back from injury playing flyhalf and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga playing fullback. Signs were positive as Argentina scored its biggest ever win over France. The same combination would go on to be used for Argentina´s November tour of Europe with Fernández starting vs Italy and France at inside centre. He was rested, however, for the test vs Ireland.

Fernández scores for Montpellier
In the meantime Fernández was a starter for a team making plenty of headlines in France, Montpellier. Fernández´s arrival for the 2010-2011 season had been to give the club depth as François Trinh-Duc needed a solid deputy. Within no time, however, Fernández was the clubs starting inside centre and his constant game time has seen him improve as a player. He has been used at flyhalf on occassion, when Trinh-Duc has not been avaliable and has proven to be a solid option for the club. Fernández at 12 was a tryscorer in Montpellier´s history making Semi Final triumph over Racing Métro last season. The teams success involved Fernández and two other Pumas - Martín Bustos Moyano and Juan Figallo. The 2011-2012 season has been just as good for Fernández with him again playing plenty of rugby, usually in the 12 shirt but also playing 10 and doing a good job in place of Trinh-Duc.

Following Rugby World Cup 2011 the team´s Argentine players has doubled from three to six with Agustín Creevy, Maximilano Bustos and Lucas González Amorosino all joining and playing regularly. The six players are all likely to feature in The Rugby Championship with Santiago Fernández looking a certainty for the match day 22 to, in the least, be wearing the teams number 21 shirt. The most logical scenario is for Fernández to play 12 outside Juan Martín Fernández but the form of Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga at 12 for Stade Français gives Santiago Phelan the luxury of having more quality options than ever before.

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
Week Fourteen: Tomás Cubelli


  1. Would you play him or Contepomi at centre?

  2. Contepomi is unlikely to play again for his country as he is putting the team first. If he is required due to injury problems then he could play. Otherwise it looks like he will not play again for Los Pumas.

    Fernández is likely to be Argentina´s 12 outside of Juan Martín Hernández but the form of Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga for Stade Français means there are a host of possibilities.