Saturday, December 14, 2013

Argentine Rugby - Five Reflections for 2014

Patricio Albacete saw regime change but was one of the best performers in 2013
2014 was a long and demanding year for Argentine rugby and the results achieved on the field were not of the positive variety. With Argentina not only losing ten out of eleven tests against Tier One nations but showing frailty in being badly defeated in Soweto, Rosario and Cardiff the year revealed that a number of reflections are needed to build a stronger team in 2014 with a clear focus on Rugby World Cup 2015. Five instances are as follows.

1. Scrum
Argentina has rediscovered its feared weapon of years gone by as trhe new scrum engagement laws of Touch, Bind, Set have taken away the initial hit in the scrum which has slowed down the process and allowed for a return of La Bajada. Juan Figallo was considered as the best tighthead prop in the Rugby Championship and Maximilano Bustos performed well in November. Both players will be aged below 30 in 2015 as will Matías Díaz. Loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza is on target for a third World Cup while Nahuel Lobo offers cover. The question to be answere is hooker. Eusebio Guiñazú started all but one test that he was available in 2012-2013. The Bath hooker turns 32 in January and is three years older than Agustín Creevy. Guiñazú is thought of as being more reliable in the set piece but has been more closer to a third prop than a hooker in the sense that he lacks the agility of international hookers. 

2. Game Plan
Argentina had the best defense in the pool stage of Rugby World Cup 2007 and the team conceeded few tries in the following years despite failing to play to the same standard. This changed significantly in 2013 with Argentina being put to the sword. Argentina´s attack was also changed and it was different from match to match as a lack of coaching direction saw Argentina play tight one week and expansive the next in the Rugby Championship. Before facing big teams the players need direction and confidence. 

3. Player Selection Pre-Rugby Championship 
An unanswered question is why did Santiago Phelan select Juan Martín Hernández at fly half to face the NSW Barbarians just weeks before the Rugby Championship? Hernández was the fullback in 2013 with Nicolás Sánchez playing fly half. Yet Phelan did not have the team playing as such in the warm-ups thus making the matches pointless in certain positions. Other instances saw experimenting but none of which transpired in the team selection for the Rugby Championship. 

4. Youth
The frailty that saw Argentina badly defeated this year has been blamed on infighting and leadership but an additional factor is that there are players in the team who lack the ability of the opposition and are not getting any younger. Indeed 2013 showed that a number of Pumas are into the twilight of their international careers and many could well be replaced by Daniel Hourcade in 2014. Hernández is not likely to return to fly half while Horacio Agulla´s future as a winger is also in doubt. What was made clear in 2013 is that there is a reliable source of talent coming through in the junior categories. Matías Díaz, Tomás Lavanini and Pablo Matera will be back in 2014 and joined by a number of others to have emerged since 2011. Hourcade is tasked with getting the best out of his players. This evidently failed to happen in 2013. 

5. Player Control
Argentina´s involvement in the Rugby Championship requried a solution to ensure that the players would be available for international duty. While Santiago Phelan was able to select all players hedesires he was not able to do so in June 2012 or June 2013 and both he and Hourcade were limited in choices in November 2012 and November 2013. Hourcade has declared that he wants 70% of Los Pumas playing in Argentina but for this to happen central contracts are requried which offer fair salaries. It will only be possible when Argentina acquires Super Rugby status. 

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