Sunday, July 28, 2013

2013 Rugby Championship - Pumas Flyhalf

Photo: ESPN Scrum Hernández and Sánchez
With there now being less than three weeks to go before the start of the 2013 Rugby Championship social networks and rugby forums are hot with opinions are to what will be the make-up of each of the four competing nations. In Australia there are some wanting Quade Cooper to return directly to the starting lineup as the Wallaby flyhalf while there is a debate amongst some as to whether Aaron Cruden has done enough to start ahead of Dan Carter. The Springboks flyhalf position is also open to question with options including Morné Steyn, Pat Lambie and even Elton Jantjies. In Argentina there is also an ongoing question as to whether it should be Nicolás Sánchez or Juan Martín Hernández. 

There are arguments that could be made for either player as they offer differing attributes that a game plan can be built around. The Pumas are set to play more attacking rugby in 2013. Indeed senior players have underlined this with Patricio Albacete, for instance, pointing out that the 2012 experience enabled Argentine rugby to have a greater comprehension of what kind of rugby is needed to be played in order to win tournament matches.

Sánchéz and Hernández are, however, not the only two flyhalves in the squad. There are, in fact five players who have started for Argentina at flyhalf against a Tier One opponent. Felipe Contepomi has started at flyhalf against all Tier One opponents - Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales. Santiago Fernández has previously started at test level at flyhalf against all of the home nations and New Zealand while Marcelo Bosch started at flyhalf against Italy in 2007. The trio of Contepomi, Fernández and Bosch would, nonetheless appear to all be in the squad as centres who can play flyhalf if need be.

Both Sánchez and Hernández can also play in other positions and, indeed, have done so at test level. They were, however, the two used at pivot in 2012 with Sánchez appearing to have the greater success as he contributed significantly to the win over European Champions Wales and was at flyhalf for the draw against South Africa. Hernández started five matches in the 2012 Rugby Championship at flyhalf but was regularly playing as a counter-attacking player by moving to fullback during matches. This was evident in his infamous swerve kick in Wellington and his contribution to Julio Farías Cabello scoring on the Gold Coast. Hernández was smoved to fullback in November which saw Argentina kick more goals as Sánchez was taking the kicks from flyhalf.

At club level Hernández was also playing the vast majority of the season at fullback for Racing Métro. Sánchez was used at flyhalf but played second fiddle to French international Camille Lopez. Sánchez recieved much less game time than not only Hernández but also Fernández and Bosch. Argentina, in other words, has a number of flyhalf options but they are overwhelmingly players used in alternative positions in France.

Santiago Phelan could, in theory, select any of the five players in the Pumas 10 shirt but in reality it is highly likely that the starting flyhalf will be Sánchez. Hernández at fullback, at this time of his career would appear to clearly be his more effective position. The Hernández thatwas on top of his game in 2007 was the leading flyhalf in Europe but with age and maturity his style of play and intelligence gives Phelan more reason to play him at fullback.

Predicted Starting Flyhalf: Nicolás Sánchez

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