Thursday, October 10, 2013

Young Blood Essential for Argentina in November

Photo: ESPN Scrum Santiago Cordero ought to debut for Argentina against England next month 
The quick turnaround from the Rugby Championship to the November internationals gives teams little to no time to make changes. The autumn international series will see all Tier One and Tier Two nations playing tests in the old continent and Brazil, Chile and Uruguay will all also have the opportunity of playing host to European sides. 

Argentina will be looking to finish off a year with few high points. In the country´s second year in the Rugby Championship there were no wins but two near losses. Against England before that Argentina´s reserve players were badly beaten leaving only wins over Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Georgia this year. As such Los Pumas have not won against an equal or superior opponent since last November when the South Americans impressed in defeating Wales 26-12.

Since then Corcho Fernández Lobbe has not smiled during a post match interview and nor have supporters. Argentine rugby supporters have long been patient. While failure is not tolerated by the masses in a number of leading rugby nations such as New Zealand and South Africa Pumas supporters have accepted mediocrity. Indeed Argentina´s narrow losses in Mendoza and Perth this year should both have been victories as should have the corresponding matches twelve months earlier. In all cases Argentina had the better of play but was unable to complete the task which in all four matches allowed the opposition to sneak in a victory.

Tough decisions will need to be made sooner or later over the status of a number of Argentina´s most notable players. Santiago Phelan has been in two minds surrounding this very issue throughout his reign as Pumas head coach. Although he has always taken two or three young players with the squad to Europe for end of year tours it has often been just as tourists as getting game time has not always eventuated. Juan Figallo and Mariano Galarza toured in 2008 but neither played and Santiago Cordero toured in 2012 but remains uncapped.

The tour is to be the end of Phelan as Argentina´s coach. He has two choices - try to leave on a high by continuing his tactics and selections from the Rugby Championship or do so by selecting a team based on form, ability and with a eye to 2015. In the Rugby Championship questions were raised over the performances of a number of senior players. There is reason for concern with 2015 just two years away with the World Cup being too far away for some of Horacio Agulla, Eusebio Guiñazú and Juan Martín Hernández who did not perform to their usual standard in the Rugby championship. This November could well be do or die for these players.

Phelan did select youth with Pablo Matera being a revelation and Matíaz Díaz and Tomás Lavanini also making their debuts against Tier One opposition. The three are from the Argentine youth program and all played in the IRB Junior World Championship for Los Pumitas earlier in 2013. Matera´s debut came through injury with Fernández Lobbe ruled out of the opening fixture in Soweto. Phelan had the choice of playing veteran Julio Farías Cabello or Matera. With Leonardo Senatore suspended after the second match Matera was used in all matches. It proved decisive as the 20 year old was a solid performer throughout the tournament.

Matera though was not picked wth an eye to 2015. The evidence can be seen in the selection of Farías Cabello and Felipe Contepomi in the tournament. Neither player wll play again in 2014 meaning they need to be replaced. Phelan opted against utilizing Tomás Lavanini in the same manner as Matera. Instead Farías Cabello started in the second-row with Mariano Galarza, Manuel Carizza and Patricio Albacete. The later of the three all had injury concerns during the competition but are on track for Rugby World Cup 2015. A fourth second-rower will need to be found and there are options such as veteran Esteban Lozada or the uncapped 21 year old Juan Cruz Guillemaín who is contracted to Stade Français. Guillemaín ought to be included and seriously considered for a place on the bench against Italy next month.

Injuries will again impact on selection in November with star tighthead prop Juan Figallo the first confirmed out of the tour. Neither Gonzalo Camacho nor Leonardo Senatore have played since leaving the squad during the Rugby Championship. There are alternatives from the junior program. With or without Camacho it is mandatory that Santiago Cordero is selected and is utilized. The 19 year old is Argentina´s best option for fullback come 2015 and ought to play in the position on tour, but possibly be used on the wing to make his debut. His performances at junior level and in the Pumas Sevens shirt underline how special he is.

Another is the fly half / fullback Patricio Fernández who is 18 years old but must tour. He looms as a future fly half and can be used as Nicolás Sánchez´s deputy this November. Phelan has tried all of Santiago Fernández, Ignacio Mieres and Benjamín Urdapilleta in the position previously with none being able to deliver. The squad should also include Facundo Isa who joined Toulon this season. The 20 year old back-rower ought to be in the squad ahead of Benjamín Macome and Tomás Leonardí who have been the back-ups used by Phelan over the past two seasons.

The squad should be confirmed in the final week of October. The experienced players cannot be immune to facing the consequences of not performing. A dailure to select youth now and have young players blooded will only create complications for the next Pumas coach. The transition period has begun and some big names need to be dropped. Curiously either or both of Nicolás Vergallo and Agustín Figuerola could merit a return to the squad should they impress over the coming weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no...I thought that Phelan was gonna step down after the RC. Couldn't ted come in as a care taker or even Houracade?

    Agree with what you said about the young players though. Don't forget the likes of Tuculet, Rojas, Orlando and Alemanno who will all be in action this weekend!