Friday, August 3, 2012

Argentina vs Stade Français Preview

Argentina will make its first ever match in The Rugby Championship in fifteen days time but the just who will be playing remains to be seen. The 34 man squad is into its final stage of preperation now with Argentina taking on Top 14 club Stade Français in two matches, the first of which will be played on Saturday in Buenos Aires. It is an interesting choice of an opponent but a sensible one. Argentina could have tried to secure a test match but the callibre of teams avaliable would have been unlikely to match that of Stade Français. It is the European pre-season with no countries at all in training aside from the four who will dispute The Rugby Chaampionship - Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Should the UAR had atttempted to host a Six Nations side the match would likely be of a lower standard as Aviva Premiership and Top 14 clubs would not release players for the match. Possibly Ireland or Wales could have sent a strong side but it would have meant an even longer season for them after they both played three June tests in the Southern Hemipshere after a long season which started in August 2011. While other test sides would not have been able to assemble quality teams. The choice of Stade Français is therefore logical with the only other real options being a second or thrid tier test team. 

Stade Français is not just any French club. It is the same club that transformed Juan Martín Hernández into a super star. It is the same club that Agustín Pichot captained to the 2007 Top 14 Championship. It has been the home of many Pumas from the past two Rugby World Cups. Of the team that defeated France to spectacularly open Rugby World Cup 2007 five players were from the club - Hernández, Pichot, and Lucas Borges, Ignacio Corleto and Rodrigo Roncero. The clubs is also the home of the all tmie leading Argentine points scorer, Felipe Contepomi. The club is also the home of current Pumas squad member Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga and the former home of Juan Leguizamón and the recently recovered Gonzalo Tiesi. 

Such has been the Argentine presence at the Paris club over the past decade that the club is synonymous with the development of Argentine rugby. Not only has the club actively contributed to the rise and consolidation of Argentina as an elite performing team but it will continue to do so in the future following the arrival of two new players for the 2012-2013 season - centre Lisando Gómez Lopez and secondrower Juan Cruz Guillemain. Neither player will feature in this match and nor will prop Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro who is injured. 

The match is not a sanctioned international. There will be no test caps awarded whatsoever. It is a genuine warm-up match with the players getting time together ahead of The Rugby Championship and headcoach Santiago Phelan being given the opportunity to tick the boxes as he looks to select a group of 28 players to fly to Cape Town for the historial first ever appearance of Los Pumas in The Rugby Championship. The match is also useful for Stade Français with the club having played badly in the past three seasons. The Parisians have the players but have not been able to regularly perform and have consequently not been ableto qualify for the Heineken Cup in recent seasons. The side selected to face Argentina is packed with international plaeyrs past and present. In the halves there is Julien Dupuy and Felipe Contepomi while Jérôme Porical will play fullback. Former Australian internationals Morgan Turinui and David Lyons are both in the team as is the promising USA international Scott LaValla. South Africa´ Anton Van Zyl forms a strong frontrow with Pascal Papé. 

Santiago Phelan has named a similar team to that from Rugby World Cup 2011. His captain is World Cup vice captain in Juan Fernández Lobbe.  He forms a backrow with Julio Farías Cabello and Tomás Leonardí, the two members of Los Pampas XV in the starting lineup. The secondrow sees Manuel Carizza and Patricio Albacete continue with the powerful unit from the World Cup. Veteran Rodrigo Roncero will start at loosehead prop to face his form club and will continue the partnership with Juan Figallo. There is a change at hooker, a forced one as the eternal Pumas hooker, Mario Ledesma retired after the Quarter Final defeat against New Zealand. His replacement is Agustín Creevy who was a backrower that Phelan suggested change to hooker and the experiment has proven highly sucessful. Creevy captained Los Pampas XV to glory in the 2011 Vodacom Cup and after the World Cup he began playing for Montpellier and he had an impressive season as the clubs starting hooker. 

The forwards are close to full strength but are without Juan Leguizamón who was been ruled out following picking up a minor injury at training on Monday. He would otherwise be starting in the 7 shirt. Whole he has been a permanent player for his country since 2004, Roncero´ inclusion ahead of Marcos Ayerza is a surprize but Ayerza is likely to start in the secon match next weekend in Santa Fé. Another surprize is the exclusion of Tomás De La Vega who was the best player to come out of the experimental forwards that faced Italy and France in June. He, alongside Ayerza and five other forwards are on the 30 man bench for this fixture. 

Phelan has all his backs avaliable for the first time in his coaching career. The 10-12 combination of Hernández and Contepomi from Rugby World Cup 2007 only played together in two tests under Phelan, both in 2008. Thereafter either one or both was injured leading to him having to make some bold selections which saw Santiago Fernández and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga debut for Los Pumas. Contepomi will not feature in The Rugby Championship as, at 35, he has decided he does not want to stand in the way of younger players. This led to some controvercy in the SANZAR countries with outspoken Australian Rugby Chairman, John O´Neill suggesting the Pumas wont be at full strength. On form Contepomi would be in the 22 and possibly the starting lineup. But as a qualified doctoer he knows his limits. The demands of playing in The Rugby Championship are extremely high. Six tests against the best opposition in rugby is no easy task, let alone for a 35 year old who played non-stop from August - June. 

With no Contepomi Phelan has predictably selected Hernández at 10 and Fernández at 12. They played together in the June 2009 test against England in Salta and the clash against the French Barbarians in Buenos Aires. Both are the leading choice in their positions and both played there for the majority of the 2011-2012 French club season as their clubs made the play-offs. They should retain the positions for the Cape Town test but they will need to not only perform well but combine well. Phelan has a number of options in both positions with Marcelo Bosch and Nicolás Sánchez both in the squad. Bosch will retain the 13 shrit that he made his own at the World Cup while Sánchez is on the 30 man bench. Another player who could play 12 is Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga. He was fullback in 2010 and 2011 for Argentina but played 12 in November 2009 and also vs Romania in the World Cup. Stade Français used him at 12 throughout the season and it is thought to be his best position, especially for Argentina who have a number of fullback options. 

The critical distribution position of scrumhalf will be filled by Nicolás Vergallo who had a forgettable season for French champions Toulouse. He struggled to get game time while Agustín Figuerola got plenty for Brive and the Los Pampas XV scrumhalf duo of Martín Landajo and Tomás Cubelli both impressed in the Vodacom Cup. The two from Los Pampas XV are likely to be in Santa Fé match and both are more attacking players than the two who have been named for this weekends match. Phelan has been searching for a new formula to try to score more tries and will need swift decision making and distribution from his scrumhalves. Considering the backs that have been assembled the team will not be playing 10-man kick and chase rugby but in order for the potential changes to take effect Phelan needs Vergallo to deliver. 


The back-three selection for Saturday´ match is interesting with Phelan having retained the starting wingers from the World Cup - Horacio Agulla and Gonzalo Camacho. Both had top seasons in England after the World Cup and have not let Phelan down. Agulla, however, could be best used in the 13 where Argentina has far less depth. The young sensation that is Juan Imhoff is all but certain to start the Cape Town test after an explosive season with Racing Métro but he is on the bench as are Rafael Carballo and Martín Bustos Moyano. All three are French based wingers but Bustos Moyano would appear to be selected as a backup fullback to Lucas González Amorosino and is also the squads leading goal kicker. He looms as the teams number 22 for Cape Town which going off Phelan´ selections is highly likely. It would appear that Phelan will field a back-three of 11 Imhoff, 14 Agulla, 15 Gonzálzez Amorosino and have Bustos Moyano covering both positions. 

Key Match up: Patricio Albacete vs Pascal Papé sees two titans battle it out in the engine room. Nicolás Vergallo vs Julien Dupuy is a contest of contrasting styles but one of quality. Rodrigo Roncero vs David Attoub is not only a friend vs friend battle but also a matchup between two of the best props in France last season. But there is one match-up that everyone has been talking about since the UAR announcement the matches against Stade Français: Juan Martín Hernández vs Felipe Contepomi

Prediction: The Stade Français side is in no way a weak team but given the time together and the preperation in the USA this should be a Pumas win. Argentina should win this comfortably by 25 points. 

Argentina

1 Rodrigo Roncero (unattached)
2 Agustín Creevy (Montpellier, France)
3 Juan Figallo (Montpellier, France)
4 Manuel Carizza (Biarritz, France)
5 Patricio Albacete (Toulouse, France)
6 Julio Farías Cabello (Los Pampas XV)
7 Tomás Leonardi (Los Pampas XV)
8 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (Toulon, France)
9 Nicolás Vergallo (Toulouse, France)
10 Juan Martín Hernández (Racing Métro, France)
11 Horacio Agulla (Bath, England)
12 Santiago Fernández (Montpellier, France)
13 Marcelo Bosch (Biarritz, France)
14 Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter, England)
15 Lucas González Amorosino (Montpellier, France)
Reserves: 16 Eusebio Guiñazú, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Álvaro Galindo, 20 Agustín Figuerola, 21 Nicolás Sánchez, 22 Juan Imhoff, 23 Leonardo Senatore, 24 Tomás Vallejos, 25 Tomás De la Vega, 26 Martín Rodríguez, 28 Rafael Carballo, 30 Martín Bustos Moyano

Stade Français
1  Romain Frou   
2  Laurent Sempéré  
3  David Attoub   
4  Anton Van Zyl   
5  Pascal Papé
6  Scott LaValla  

7  Olivier Missoup   
8  David Lyons

9  Julien Dupuy   
10  Felipe Contepomi  
11  Julien Arias   
12  Morgan Turinui   
13  Geoffrey Doumayrou  
14  Waisea Vuidravuwalu 
15  Jérôme Porical

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