Today marked the 30th birthday of Juan Martín Hernández and he celebrated it extremely well by being named in the Argentine squad of 26 players to face Stade Français this coming Friday and then travel to South Africa for the Pumas first ever match in The Rugby Championship. He is set to play his first match of international rugby since directing Argentina to a win over England in Salta in June 2009. Since then he has moved from Stade Français to the Natal Sharks and finally to Racing Métro.
This Friday Argentina will play its final warm-up match before making its historical debut in The Rugby Championship. Los Pumas will face Stade Français at 7pm at the estadio Brigadier General Estanislao López, in Santa Fe. The squad for the match was released earlier today by the UAR who confirmed that the same 26 players will be the ones travelling to Cape Town to face South Africa.
The squad is the best prepared Pumas squad in the professional era with all foreign based players having had sufficient rest time following a long European club season that started directly after the end of the World Cup. The only players from the squad who featred in the June internationals against Italy and France are either members of Los Pampas XV or are players who will not be playing the 2012-2013 season in Europe. All players were a part of the training squad that underwent fitness training in Pensacola.
Such has been the preperation that the players are looking at exploding on Newlands in a similar manner to that of Argentina at the Stade de France on the famous night of September 02 2007. The 26 man squad features five players from that night - Horacio Agulla, Patricio Albacete, captain Juan Fernández Lobbe, Juan Martín Hernández and Rodrigo Roncero. There is one player who should be in the squad but has been left out due to injury - Juan Leguizamón. He had a great game in the win over France five years ago. He started in place of Gonzalo Longo who had injured himself playing against a Belgium XV in Argentina´ final warm-up match. The young Lion of Leguizamón filled his shoes and was impressive.
Aside from Leguizamón all players were avaliable to Phelan which is interesting given some of the players he has selected. He has not selected Agustín Figuerola who had a good season in France with Brive but he has selected Nicolás Vergallo who had very limited game time with Toulouse. Joining Vergallo is a promising young Buenos Aires scrumhalf but it is not Tomás Cubelli instead Phelan has opted for Martín Landajo. This selection points to Landajo´ form against Italy and France in June significantly given that Cubelli had looked the better of the two in the Vodacom Cup. Vergallo is now certain to start at scrumhalf inside Juan Martín Hernández.
The makeup of the squad suggests Hernández will be covered by Nicolás Sánchez on the bench. The Bordeaux-Begles pivot is a more reliable goalkicker than El Mago and this should mean Martín Bustos Moyano is left out of the match day 22. He is a winger or a fullback and is not the same attacking threat as Horacio Agulla, Lucas González Amorosino, Gonzalo Camacho or Juan Imhoff. These four should be in the 22 with three starting and one, possibly Camacho on the bench. This would mean Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga would have to be used in the centres or miss out on selection. He is a better attacking option than the favorite for the 12 shirt, Santiago Fernández but does not have as good of a pass and is nto as reliable as a defensive players. This would mean Fernández would be joined by Marcelo Bosch to form the centres combination and would therefore likely mean Rodríguez Gurruchaga would miss out on making the 22. Sánchez would cover 10 and 12 from the bench while Camacho would cover wing and Agulla could move to play either 13 or 15 like he has done in previous years for Argentina.
The forwards are more clear-cut. The only real question is over who will join Juan Figallo and Agustín Creevy in the frontrow. Will it be the 35 year old, highly regarded veteran Rodrigo Roncero who is a multiple French Champion and is playing his last season of rugby. On the other hand will it be the younger Marcos Ayerza who has been amongst the best props in England for the past six years. Both players are great in the scrums and at tackling. Ayerza is an 80 minute player while Roncero is likely to be more of a 60 minute player. As such it is probably going to see Ayerza start. The second row will see Patricio Albacete and Manuel Carizza reform their impressive unit from the World Cup. They will likely be covered by Tomás Vallejos Cinalli who has only been capped once but is in no way a weaklink. He is potentially Argentina´ best lineout jumper.
Without Leguizamón either Leonardo Senatore or Tomás Leonardí will be joining Julio Farías Cabello and Juan Fernández Lobbe in the back row. The likely choice is Leonardí who is more of a worker than Senatore and was the better of the two in the June internationals. The best back rower to come out of the June tests is not in the team though as 21 year old Tomás De La Vega is alongside hooker Bruno Postiglioni a surprizing ommission. In both cases Phelan has opted for experienced players. Eusebio Guiñazú will be the replacement hooker and will also be used as a second replacement prop which will allow Phelan to have two props on the bench but not sacrifice a replacement back.
Possible Starting XV
1 Marcos Ayerza, 2 Agustín Creevy, 3 Juan Figallo, 4 Manuel Carizza, 5 Patricio Albacete, 6 Julio Farías Cabello, 7 Tomás Leonardí, 8 Juan Fernández Lobbe (Captain), 9 Nicolás Vergallo, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 12 Santiago Fernández, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Horacio Agulla, 15 Lucas González Amorosino
Bench: 16 Eusebio Guiñazú, 17 Rodrigo Roncero, 18 Tomás Vallejos, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 Martín Landajo, 21 Nicolás Sánchez, 22 González Camacho
26 man Argentina Squad