Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fall-Out Following Phelan Resignation

With Daniel Hourcade now officially having replaced Santiago Phelan as Pumas coach just three weeks before a three week test match tour of Europe the dust is yet to settle and some players have been speaking out in frustration towards the Argentine media. 

Horacio Agulla, Juan Martín Hernández and Juan Manuel Leguizamón all defended Phelan following his resignation and all criticized what had been said about Phelan and his staff in the aftermath of the 2013 Rugby Championship. Patricio Albacete, though, has called on Phelan to accept responsibility in criticizing the Phelan regime. In the opinion of the Toulouse veteran Phelan´s decison to stand down at the eleventh hour was simply disastrous and leaves Los Pumas poorly prepared for the November tour of England, Italy and Wales.

In 2012 Albacete was criticized within Argentina for speaking out against the UAR´s payment system to the players and requested improved facilities to close the gap between what existed on the ground in Argentina and that found in rival nations. Albacete said so from a position of authority as he has been playing professional rugby at the top level in France since 2003. Before joining Toulouse in 2006 Pato Albacete played for Colomiers and Pau. His achievements with Toulouse place him as one of the leading players in France and he has been commonly regarded as the best second-rower in Europe throughout his career at the club.

In addition to having captained Toulouse on occassions Albacete has won the 2010 Heineken Cup and the Top 14 in 2008, 2010 and 2011. It is a résumé that players can only dream of and it has occured with the Puma holding onto the number five shirt throughout his career. It has seen French international players struggling to get game time yet it has no seen the now 31 year old selected to captain Argentina. The lack of a decision in this capacity caused significant behind the scene rifts on more than one occassion during the Phelan regime. Rather than have Albacete replace the injured Fernández Lobbe Phelan opted to have Felipe Contepomi captain Argentina to begin the 2013 Rugby Championship. Albacete had been the official vice captain in 2012 but was punished for criticizing the union and set-up.

The rift within the squad saw Albacete being backed by some players and Fernández Lobbe defending the Phelan regime. According to Marc Duzan of Midi Olympique Albacete was not alone and had the backing of others including centres Santiago Fernández and Marcelo Bosch while Juan Martín Hernández, Juan Imhoff and Juan Manuel Leguizamón stood by their captain. The emergence of the two groups ought to never have occured but it did and the dispute was not resolved which saw an unhappy Pumas side finish the second edition of the Rugby Championship winless.

Part of the rift comes down to Corcho Fernández Lobbe not doing what Albacete has done - ask for administration and technical improvements. While Albacete spoke out against Phelan during his reign and since the captain of the team since Rugby World Cup 2011 has not done so in public. Corcho, however, came out yesterday to make a public statement about Phelan´s resignation. The captain said that the players and team had to contribute so that the Pumas could continue developing. He was unhappy with private information having been leaked and as captain he felt responsible for not being able to keep the structure in place until after the November internationals.

Daniel Hourcade will name his squad on Tuesday for the European tour and there could well be a shakeup with some underperforming players missing out. 

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