|Pablo Matera carries vs Wales in the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship|
The thirty-man Pumas squad named last week by Santiago Phelan for the Rugby Championship featured six backrowers. Four are returning from the 2012 tournament while two are newcomers. The four returning players are Julio Farías Cabello, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Leonardo Senatore and captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. Joining them are the Argentine based 27 year old Benjamín Macome and 19 year old Pablo Matera. The selection of the latter was most interesting not only due to his age but due to him going directly from the juniors to the seniors. Indeed, Matera, is fresh from the IRB Junior World Championship and has not played a lot of rugby in the Vodacom Cup.
The squad is likely to be expanded to include scrumhalf Nicolás Vergallo and backrower Tomás Leonardí. Both players are a part of the Kings Super Rugby franchise based in Port Elizabeth. Both featured in the 2012 Rugby Championship and played for Argentina in the home internationals last month. The Kings are not going to features in the play-off´s meaning that the sides round 20 match against the Sharks in Durban on July 13 will be the final match for both players. In 2012 Leonardí was used on the bench in the Rugby Championship, generally to replace Leguizamón. This year he may well be in direct competition with Matera.
Matera´s selection coincides with the non-selection of Alvaro Galindo and the postional shift of Farías Cabello to the secondrow. Aged 34 Farías Cabello is to turn 37 in the day before England take on Oceania 1 to open Rugby World Cup 2015. His selection for the 2013 Rugby Championship is therefore open to questioning. With Phelan selecting three rather than four secondrowers Farías Cabello has clearly been included for a purpose. Age has never been on his side after he debuted in November 2010 already on the wrong side of 30. He impressed at Rugby World Cup 2011 and was a reliable performer in the 2012 Rugby Championship but the 2013 season would appear to be his last at international level. In comparison Fernández Lobbe is 31, Macome 27, Senatore 29, Leonardí is 26 and Leguizamón has just turned 30.
Aged Fifteen years younger than Farías Cabello Matera is a player to watch out for in the coming years. He has demonstrated extraordinary ball carrying and support play abilities. In the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship the 19 year old was not only destructive but showed great comprehension of knowing where to be and when. He was on hand to score tries and also create others. It was loose forward play familiar to the models used in Australia and New Zealand and not Argentina. Matera has the making of being an openside flanker and his inclusion comes after he debuted for Argentina in the 2013 South American Championship against Chile. Matera marked his debut with a try and three days later he scored again as Argentina took on Brazil.
He has the ability and also the physical build to play against Tier One opposition immediately. The only player ceratin of his place in the backrow is the captain, although it would appear logical that Leguizamón and Senatore would be joining Fernández Lobbe in the backrow due to the combination´s overall improvement in November in comparison to the performances in the Rugby Championship. Should Farías Cabello be on the bench covering both the backrow and the secondrow then there will be room for an additional backrower. The current training regime in Pensacola will go very far to indicate the twenty-three players likely to play against the Springboks. Unfortunately for Leonardí he has not been able to recieve sufficient game time in Super Rugby this season and he was overshadowed by Macome in the June internationals. Do not be surprized to see the name Matera on the bench when Argentina face South Africa at Soccer City on August 17. Would it be too early? - no. Schalk Burger, George Smith and Richie McCaw all debuted as 20 year olds. Matera will turn 20 this month.