Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2013 with an eye to 2015 - Argentina´s Nicolás Sánchez

Sánchez v Wales 2012
Twenty-four year old Nicolás Sánchez made a name for himself against Wales in Argentina´s 26-12 win last November. Sánchez was named at flyhalf ahead of Juan Martín Hernández and veteran Felipe Contepomi with the pair both starting in other positions. The rise of Sánchez to place ahead of Hernández at pivot and in Hernández´ favorite position was quite remarkable. Contepomi was only in the side due to the non-availability of Santiago Fernández and Marcelo Bosch due to the UAR restricting its number of players per Top 14 club to two each for the fixture. But Hernández was available and, by all accounts, he had performed well for Argentina at flyhalf in The Rugby Championship. There were concerns over his goalkicking but, otherwise Hernández had played well. He started in five of the six matches with the exception being the home match against South Africa in Mendoza. 

In place of Hernández was Sánchez who had only played three previous tests matches and none of them were either against Tier One opposition or featured him starting at flyhalf. The choice of Sánchez over Ignacio Mieres or either Fernández or Bosch at flyhalf was interesting, but it proved to be the best option. Mieres had been a key player for the Exeter Chiefs in the 2011-2012 Aviva Premiership while both Fernández and Bosch have played at flyhalf for Argentina previously. But with them being the prefered centres combination and Mieres not in the squad Sánchez was given an opportunity and he impressed. He was well organized and proved to be more than a useful replacement. The one issue was that fullback Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga was the goalkicker and he missed a few chances that a better kicker could have landed. 

The match against Wales in November was testiment to Sánchez as a playmaker and a goalkicker. He scored twelve points and made good decisions to see Argentina get the upper hand and go on to complete its best result for the year. Sánchez arrived in the Pumas for the first time in 2010. He played against Chile and Uruguay at inside centre in that years South American Championship. Sánchez was one of a host of players to have come through the PladAR system and has been able to develop into one of Argentina´s best options in the backs for the future. After playing for Los Pampas XV in the undefeated 2011 campaign in South Africa´s Vodacom Cup Sánchez got the vall up to Argentina to replace the injured Hernández at the World Cup in New Zealand. He went on to place against Romania as a replacement. 

The year also saw him sign to play professional rugby in France´s Top 14 for Bordeaux-Begles. The club offered him a one season contract and despite him missing most of the season die to injury he was resigned on a new two year deal. The 2012-2013 season has seen him miss a lot of matches due to his involvement with Los Pumas and the club´s other options. Camille Lopez has been the clubs first choice flyhalf but it is only a matter of time before Sánchez controls the position. He arrived back from The Rugby Championship in October and made his first appearance of the season against Mont de Marsan as a replacement. He has not played in the two most recent ruonds and has played six matches in the Top 14 so far this season as well as playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup. 

The make-up of the Argentine team in 2013 will be different to that of 2012. There will be players who play for the final time before retirement and there is also likely to be a clearing out of players with an eye to 2015. Santiago Phelan has already begun the clearing out and the selection of Sánchez at flyhalf in November was very much made for this reason. 2013 could well see a backline built around Sánchez as the Tucumán flyhalf shapes as being Argentina´s long term option in the position. Hernández´s future would appear to be at fullback. 

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