Friday, March 28, 2014

Pampas XV: Lucas Noguera Paz emerges as future Puma Prop

Lucas Noguera Paz
Photo UAR
Success in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup in Australia has given Argentine headcoach Daniel Hourcade with reason for optimism. The combination of young players with a sprinkling of veterans produced a side that was undefeated and has players ready to take to next step towards a place in the Pumas. One player to have taken his opportunity and emerge as a future Puma was twenty year old loosehead prop Lucas Noguera Paz. The front-rower was the only player to have started every match for the South American team. 

Noguera Paz was a hard-working player in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup. In the scrums he gave the South Americans the stability and go forward ball and had a high workrate around the park. The competition served as a step-up for the former Pumita after he had played in the 2013 IRB Junior World Championship in France and prior to that represented Argentina at under 19 level in 2012. 

His rise comes on the eve of transition. There are questions over the future of the loosehead prop position due to the new laws banning European based players from playing test rugby for Argentina after Rugby World Cup 2015. Leicester veteran Marcos Ayerza will still be under contract with the Tigers after the World Cup and will, therefore, not be considered for international duty should he not request an early exit from the club. 

Ayerza was a long time deputy to Rodrigo Roncero who held down the starting position from 2004-2013. Now aged thirty-one Ayerza is approaching the twilight of his career and Argentina will need to identify his successors. In the post Roncero era Argentina has utilized Nahuel Lobo, Guillermo Roan and Pablo Henn in addition to Ayerza while regular starting tighthead prop Juan Figallo has also played a test at loosehead. 

Neither Henn nor Roan are serious contenders for places in the Rugby Championship or Rugby World Cup  2015 and, similarly, neither are likely to be priorities for the June internationals against Ireland and Scotland. Lobo, who is playing for Montpellier as a medical joker, will likely be the starting loosehead prop with Noguera Paz very possibly being on the bench. Twenty-two year old Lobo has proven to be a quality player for both Montpellier and Argentina but is yet to start a test match. All test of his caps have been as a replacement. 

With Ayerza set to miss the June internationals the likely two loosehead props in Daniel Hourcade´s squad will therefore be Lobo and Noguera Paz, two players from outside of Buenos Aires. Lobo is from Chavarí in Argentina´s Litoral in the province of Entre Rios while Noguera Paz is from the rugby stronghold of Tucumán.

With the Pampas XV players now back in Argentina many are to play in the Nacional de Clubes this weekend and will be considered for the South American Championship matches against Chile and Uruguay. Noguera Paz is a strong bet to be named as the starting loosehead prop for these matches and, if so, would make his international debut. Last year Super Rugby player Matías Díaz debuted in the same competition and went on to play in the Rugby Championship. 

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