Thursday, January 30, 2014

Horacio Agulla Try Scoring Drought

Photo PreMatch
Argentina entered Rugby World Cup 2011 with two in-form wingers based in England. Gonzalo Camacho had scored a defining try to win the Amlin Challenge Cup final for the Harlequins against Stade Français while Horacio Agulla held down a starting position on the right wing for Leicester in the Heineken Cup and the Aviva Premiership, including the final. Agulla impressed after the World Cup by winning the Leicester player of the month award twice in the 2011-2012 season and scoring six Premiership tries in both the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. 

Due to complications with release for the Rugby Championship Agulla was not offered a new contract from the Leicester Tigers which saw him move to Bath in the 2012-2013 season and he remains at the club and started this past weekend at fullback. Bath has also utilized Agulla at both wing and outside centre but he has recieved most game time on the wing. 

At international level Agulla has started against elite opposition in the same three positions. He started for the first time at fullback against Ireland in November 2008 and held down the position until June 2010 when Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga moved from inside centre. The 21 tests that Agulla started between then and Argentina´s most recent test match, against Italy in November, were all on the wing. He moved to centre to start against the Italians with Juan Imhoff and Lucas González Amorosino forming a new combination. 

Although Agulla started at outside centre it was not his first apperance in the position for Los Pumas. To the contrary, Agulla had previously played in the position either as a replacement from the bench or as a postional shift. He did so with distinction against Wales in 2012 but would not go on to be selected in a starting Pumas lineup in the position until Daniel Hourcade replaced Santiago Phelan the following year. 

Phelan called upon Agulla as a reliable defender having him start in combination with Gonzalo Camacho at Rugby World Cup 2011 and most matches thereafter. The exceptions were against Wales in 2012 and one test against each of South Africa and New Zealand in 2013. Agulla, was otherwise holding down a position as a starting winger which has seen him pass the mark of 50 test caps. 

But in now having been capped 52 times by Argentina Horacio Agulla holds a world record for the lowest conversion rate of test match appearances to tries by a winger at international level. Of his 51 test appearances 43 have been in the starting lineup and 35 of them on the wing. His return is four tries at international level, the last of which was against Uruguay in May 2010. 

Agulla captained Argentina against Uruguay in May 2010 and in doing so represented his country together with his brother Belisario. Horacio Agulla was the starting fullback while his three other tries came on the wing in matches against Samoa, Ireland and Scotland in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Since scoring against Los Teros Agulla has played twenty-eight test matches and since scoring against Scotland he has played a further ten.

By way of comparison Juan Imhoff has started twelve tests thus far and has scored twelve tries out of a total of twenty test match appearances. González Amorosino has scored four tries in twenty-nine tests, seventeen of which were in the starting lineup while Camacho has six tries from twenty-three test match appearances.

One of the overwhelming factors in Agulla´s selection favor is his superior defence compared to Imhoff and González Amorosino. Another is his on-field determination which has been of note with him being renowned for putting his heart and soul into every performance. In addition Agulla has played well on the wing for Los Pumas in non-capped matches such as those against the South American Invitational XV in 2011, against Stade Français in 2012 and the New South Wales Barbarians in 2013. His last Pumas try against a non-club side for Argentina was in San Juan in 2011.

Agulla remains an important player for his country but Hourcade´s decision to start him in the mid-field is a sign that the direction has changed. The future of Agulla at international level would appear to be far more suited to number 13 than 11, 14 or 15. Argentina has more to gain from Agulla playing twelve. His physicality places him as a strong ball carrying option in mid-field - an important part of any rugby team.

Agulla has not scored for Argentina since 2011

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