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Saturday´s opening fixture of the 2013 Rugby Championship between South Africa and Argentina is set to be a match without the Pumas captain. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe is out of action. The Toulon backrower did not train with the players this morning in Johannesburg and instead watched on from the sidelines. In his place Argentina is set to be captained by Patricio Albacete with the Toulouse secondrower appearing certain to now take his place in the side after recovering from injury.
The mixture of positive and negative news for Pumas supporters may not be the focus of attention however as Santiago Phelan appears set to field a significantly different starting lineup to that which was used throughout the 2012 edition of the Rugby Championship. While Fernández Lobbe captained with the 8 shirt on his back in 2012 the 8 shirt appears set to be worn by Leonardo Senatore according to ESPN Scrum. Senatore had been a replacement in the 2012 Rugby Championship but started at 8 in November with Juan Leguizamón playing 7 and Fernández Lobbe playing 6. This morning´s training session featured a backrow of Senatore, Leguizamón and Pablo Matera and Julio Farías Cabello both being utilized at 6.
They played behind a secondrow that featured Albacete joining forces with Manuel Carizza while the frontrow saw Juan Figallo in the loosehead rather than tighthead prop position and 20 year old Matías Díaz taking the tighthead position. The starting hooker looks set to be Eusebio Guiñazú and not Agustín Creevy which will have split decisions due to many believing that Creevy´s ball carrying abilities mean that it is mandatory for him to be the starting hooker. Should form be a guide then Creevy would appear to be unfortunate to not be in the starting lineup.
There has been even more debate over who should be the starting flyhalf. Indeed in the 2012 Rugby Championship Argentina suffered greatly from the lack of a specialist goalkicker. With Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga and Juan Martín Hernández being used both missed costly chances which could have seen different results. Indeed the drawe against South Africa in Mendoza featured some inaccurate attempts from Rodríguez Gurruchaga while Hernández missed attempts in the narrow defate against the Wallabies on the Gold Coast. Neither player is to be the kicker this weekend. Instead it was Nicolás Sánchez who trained at flyhalf this morning with Hernámdez taking the role of fullback. Joining them was an attacking group of players that included Martín Landajo at scrumhalf, Felipe Contepomi and Marcelo Bosch in the centres and Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho on the wings.
Should this indeed be the starting lineup then it would be noticably different to both teams that faced New South Wales in the two match warm-up series. On both occassions Hernández was the starting flyhalf and did not feature at all at fullback. He has, however, come off a solid season at fullback for Racing Métro in France and the common analysis tends to agree he is able to contribute more to his team, at this point of his career, by playing fullback.
Looking ahead to Rugby World Cup 2015 there are not too many questionable selections. Contepomi will retire at the end of the Rugby Championship while Guiñazú and Farías Cabello are the others in doubt of still being in the team come England 2015. Overall it is a mixture of youth and experience with Albacete, Leguizamón, Contepomi and Hernández being veterans of the Bronze Medal finishing Pumas side from Rugby World Cup 2007. Imhoff, Figallo, Landajo, Matera and Sánchez, on the other hand, are all aged 25 or under.
Pumas XV in training
1 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 3 Matías Díaz
(Montpellier, France), (Bath, England), (Teque, Cuyo)
4 Manuel Carizza, 5 Patricio Albacete
(Unattached), (Toulouse, France)
6 P Matera / J Farías, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Leguizamón
(Alumni, URBA /Tucumán), (Worcester Warriors, England), (Lyon OU, France)
9 Martín Landajo, 10 Nicolás Sánchez
(CASI, URBA), Bordeaux-Begles, France)
12 Felipe Contepomi, 13 Marcelo Bosch
(Newman, URBA), (Saracens, England)
11 Juan Imhoff, 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Gonzalo Camacho
(Racing Métro, France) , (Racing Métro, France), (Leicester Tigers, England)