Monday, August 13, 2012

The Rugby Championship Players to Watch - Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe

This week marks a milestone in Argentine rugby. It is the final week before Los Pumas at long last play in an international Tier One competition outside of the World Cup. It has been a long battle to get the South Americans into The Rugby Championship and now that they are there it is time to prove, once again, over six games just how good Argentina are. Most people on social media tend to be saying Argentina´ best chance is a win over Australia in Rosario - the Pumas final match of the competition. Indeed that is probably the most winnable match of the six but it is far from being the only one. The team is playing to win every match and has changed its game plan and preperation to do all that it can to maximize its chances of success. 

To help with the countdown to Argentina´ much delayed debut season in the Southern Hemipshere´ premier competition Argentina 2023 has been presenting a weekly player profile series titled The Rugby Championship Players to Watch. This weeks edition marks the twenty-eighth profile and the player featured is the captain, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. He has been named as captain in place of Felipe Contepomi whose 35th birthday is only seven days away. The appontment of Fernández Lobbe was expected and his story is one of skill, determination and pride in what he does. Without question, Fernández Lobbe is one of the players to watch out for in The Rugby Championship not only for Los Pumas but in general. he has established himself as one of the best backrowers in the world and one of the best leaders.  

CI and JM Fernández Lobbe
Together at the Sale Sharks
When Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe made his Pumas debut he was very raw and was following in the footsteps of his older brother, Carlos Ignacio. He debuted in 2004 some eight years after his brother. His rise to stardom was not as quick as other players but his consolidation is as good as any rugby player on the planet. He debuted for Argentina against Uruguay in the 2004 South American Championship and also faced Venezuela that year. He was still an amateur player, playing for Liceo Naval in Buenos Aires and his path to success came after a tremendous match against Scotland in Murrayfield while still an amateur player in 2005. Pumas Headcoach Marcelo Loffreda was looking to test out players ahead of Rugby World Cup 2007 and named Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe at 8 to join the European based pair of Martín Schusterman and Martín Durand. His performance was impressive, particularly as a ball carrier and it saw him establish himself permanently in the team. 

At the time of the Murrayfield match Carlos Ignacio had already been playing professionally in Europe for five years. He had featured at both Rugby World Cup 1999 and 2003 and went on to play one season for Bordaeux and three for Castres before joining the Sale Sharks in 2005. Juan Martín joined him at Sale in 2006 and the brothers had a good season in preperation for Rugby World Cup 2007. Both started in the opening match and all the key ones with Juan Martín playing in all of Argentina´  matches and neve being substituted. The World Cup was a defining moment in the history of Pumas rugby as the team finished third in the world and gave a new meaning to the Bronze Final which teams had traditionally taken for granted. 

His performances at the World Cup were impressive and he returned to the Sale Sharks to be the teams most consistantr performer in the 2007-2008 season. This saw him rewarded as he was named as captain for the 2008-2009 season and would also lead Argentina in November 2009 against Ireland following the withdrawl of Contepomi with an infected hand in the days leading up to the match. It was not a one off for Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. Contepomi injured his knee so badly in the 2009 Heineken Cup Semi Final that he would miss all of Argentina´ match that year. This saw Fernández Lobbe lead his country and do so impressively as he led Argentina to wins over England, the French Barbarians and Italy. 

Despite being the captain of one of the, then, best English sides, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe would not stay on at the club. He was offered a new contract but instead took up a better paying offer to play for Toulon in the French Top 14. He joined the club for the 2009-2010 season and was the clubs player of the year and was nominated for Top 14 players of the year and named in the seasons Dream XV. That season Toulon had turned around years of bad performances and had made the Semi Finals. The team looked to have won the Semi Final match against Clermont at St Ettiene but were defeated in extra time. Two years latter the club made the final but were defeated by Toulouse. Fernández Lobbe had made a quick impact on his teammates and the coaching staff. this saw him captain the team on a number of occassions in his three years at the club thus far. 

Fernández Lobbe is entering The Rugby Championship with forty-three test caps to his name. All but one of these appearances have been in the starting lineup. The only test in which he did not start was the 2004 match against Venezuela. He should be leading his country into his third Rugby World Cup in 2015 at which time he will be 34 years old. His performances at Rugby World Cup 2011 saw him being praised in the global rugby media but his tournament was ended in the third match as he left in the first half against Scotland with a serious knee injury. 

Week 03: Marcelo Bosch
Week 04: Agustín Creevy
Week 08: Rodrigo Roncero
Week 09: Gonzalo Camacho
Week 11: Horacio Agulla
Week 12: Juan Figallo
Week 14: Tomás Cubelli 
Week 15: Marcos Ayerza
Week 16: Manuel Carizza
Week 19: Alvaro Galindo
Week 26: Manuel Montero
Week 27: Tomás Vallejos
Week 28: Juan Fernández Lobbe

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