Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 with an eye to 2015 - Argentina´s Nahuel Lobo

While Santiago Phelan was relatively conservative in his selections in 2012 he is likely to loosen up more in 2013. The post Rugby World Cup clearing out that occurs after every Rugby World Cup indeed started in 2011 itself with Mario Ledesma and Martín Scelzo hanging up their boots that year. In 2012 their long term frontrow partner Rodrigo Roncero retired while Felipe Contepomi is going to play for the final time in 2013. As 2015 nears the picture will become clearer as to who is and who is not likely to feature for Los Pumas at the tournament. 2009 was a key year for Argentina as a host of players from 2007 played for the last time and a host of players that would go on to be key in 2011 made their senior debuts. Amongst the players debuting against Tier One opposition in 2009 were Lucas González Amorosino, Gonzalo Camacho, Agustín Creevy Tomás Leonardí and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga. 2010 saw Julio Farías Cabello, Juan Figallo and Mariano Galarza debuting while Juan Imhoff and Leonardo Senatore first face Tier One opposition in 2011. 

Phelan made some noticable selections in 2012 with Tomás Cubelli and Martín Landajo both getting a lot of game time at scrumhalf, Nicolás Sánchez making himself Argentina´s leading flyhalf, Tomás Leonardí becoming a quality backrow option and the emergence of three new props - Francisco Gómez Kodela, Maxmilano Bustos and  Nahuel  Lobo. Goméz Kodela and Bustos both started for the first time against Tier One opposition in 2012 and did so after having played in the Top 14. Lobo, on the other hand made his first ever appearance in Pumas players against France in Lille. He bucked the trend of facing the likes of Chile or Uruguay first and emerged ahead of older players who had been in queue behind the likes of Omar Hasan, Roncero and Scelzo. While Goméz Kodela is 27 and Bustos is 26 Lobo is a lot younger. 

Lobo came on as a replacement against France as a 21 year old. It capped off a phenomenal year in which he had featured for Los Pampas XV in the Vodacom Cup and had gone on to be signed by Montpellier to play Top 14 rugby as a medical joker. He was brought in as cover for injured players and due to the non-availability of Bustos and Figallo in the early season matches. Lobo played against Castres and Bordeaux-Begles in September and Racing Métro in October and also faced Toulon in a Heineken Cup match. In a sign of things to come Lobo proved to be more than good enough in these four matches and it saw him selected for higher honors with Phelan selecting him for the November tour of Europe. 

Like Figallo, Lobo is a multi-purpose frontrower. He can play at both tighthead and loosehead prop. He was used by Montpellier at loosehead and played there for Argentina off the bench against France and Ireland in 2012. In 2011 Lobo was playing for Argentina in the IRB Junior World Championship in Italy. Lobo was on the bench for Argentina´s first match fo the campaign, a 34-8 loss against Wales. He started in Argentina´s 27-3 win over Italy but was on the bench for Argentina´s third and final pool match in which New Zealand won 48-15. He featured in Argentina´s two final matches which saw the South Americans finish in nineth place. Lobo started against Italy and was a replacement against Scotland. He was very useful as a replacement due to his ability to cover both sides of the scrum but in 2012 he was clearly able to progress ahead of others and today he looms as a real prospect to be Argentina´s back-up option for Marcos Ayerza at loosehead prop.

Ayerza will miss the June tests against England and Georgia which could well give Lobo an opportunity of getting plenty of game time to prepare him for the future. In his case the future could well be now as the new laws that permit an extra prop on the bench means a backup will always be required. As such Lobo could very well get plenty of game time in the 2013 Rugby Championship and Come England 2015 the name Nahuel Lobo could be a household name.

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