Saturday, June 22, 2013

Could Patricio Fernández be the next Juan Martín Hernández?

 Fernández v Australia
On April 27 2003 a young and predominantly amateur Argentine side took on Paraguay in an international match which was part of the South American Championship. So raw was the team that nine players were earning their first test caps. Of them four remain in the Pumas frame one decade later with two having earned and sustained themselves reputations which puts them amongest the best players in the Top 14 - Patricio Albacete and Juan Martín Hernández. Their debut appearances for Los Pumas proved so strong that both were selected for that years Rugby World Cup. 

Together with Eusebio Guiñazú the pair of Albacete and Hernández are the three survivors from the match who remain in Argentina´s test squad. They were all starters for Argentina in the 2012 Rugby Championship and unless Santiago Phelan decides to play differently they are all likely to start again. Hernández was Argentina´s flyhalf in the Rugby Championship but moved back to fullback for the November internationals in which Argentina played against Wales, France and Ireland. The positional shift marked a return to where it had all began as Hernández had debuted as 20 year old at fullback against Paraguay. Indeed, while Hernández was Argentina´s flyhalf at Rugby World Cup 2007 he had only been selected in the position after having made the move from fullback to flyhalf in January 2007 for Stade Français. Before then he has been playing fullback for club and country despite having always played flyhalf as a junior.

Argentina´s highly promising Patricio Fernández looms as a future Puma, and sooner rather than later. Born in October 1994 the young flyhalf is playing his second IRB Junior World Championship right now and has been at the forefront of an overaall strong campaign that has seen the South Americans defeat Scotland, Samoa and Australia while losing narrowly against Wales. Should his developemnt continue there is a real chance that Fernández could be picked for Rugby World Cup 2015 matching the age of Juan Martín Hernández in Australia 2003.

Moreover, like Hernández the possibility of Fernández being selected as a fullback are strong. The way Fernández plays is well suited to that of a fullback. His tries against Australia earlier this week in the IRB Junior World Championship did not come from him playing in the flyhalf position. While he was wearing the 10 shirt it was his support play that stood out. Fernández was on hand when it counted, in a way similar to that of the early years of Hernández for Stade Français and Los Pumas. Hernández started at fullback against Namibia and Romania in Rugby World Cup 2003 and did so with Ignacio Corleto starting against Australia and France. Twelve years down the track there is reason to feel that a similar scenario may well eventuate with Hernández playing fullback against New Zealand and Tonga and, possibly, Fernández getting game time against the yet to qualify Europe 1 and Africa 1.

There is plenty of reason to keep an eye on Fernández and he is certainly as good as the junior flyhalves representing Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship. Fernández would therefore be well placed to play Super Rugby for any of the fifteen teams competing in the 2014 competition. While Fernández´s long term future would appear to lie at flyhalf he has the credentials to play fullback before moving into his natural position. Could he replicate Hernández? 

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