Tuesday, April 29, 2014

International Rugby: 2014 Form June Pumas Squad - Part II Backs

Photo Rugby Tucuman
Fernández should play in June 
A number of Argentine players who missed out on being selected for the senior Pumas squad in 2013 have impressed in Europe this season. With headcoach Daniel Hourcade needing to determine who will and will not play in the Rugby Championship the signs are that Argentina should field a superior team in June 2014 than was the case twelve months prior. In Part two of a three part series Argentina 2023 takes a look at the players likely to be selected to represent Argentina this coming June. 

Hourcade named thirteen backs in his squad last November. It is the same number selected by Santiago Phelan for Rugby World Cup 2011 and Marcelo Loffreda four years earlier. It is based on an understanding that more forwards are required due to there being little to no room for utility players unlike is the case with a number of positions in the backline. 

The new laws for international rugby which allow for twenty-three rather than twenty-two players in total in a match day team are likely to see this further embraced with more teams likely to prioritize having a fifth prop rather than a third scrum-half, fullback or even a hooker. Loffreda opted for just two hookers in 2007 which saw Eusebio Guiñazú called up for the Bronze Final in place of the injured Mario Ledesma. 

The Pumas squad used since Rugby World Cup 2011 has been one with thirteen backs in mind. Both Phelan and Hourcade has shown an interest in two players per position as a maximum. This is likely to remain the case throughout 2014 which makes the selection for Los Pumas in June all the more interesting due to the differing quantity of game time per player and the quality of performance of backs in Europe this season. 

Both Agustín Figuerola and Nicolás Vergallo have been playing in France this season but neither was a part of the senior squad in 2013. As such both will be free to play in June if selected and there is a strong case to be made for the selection of either or both. Vergallo has made twenty appearances for the Pro d2 winners Lyon while Figuerola has played twenty matches in the Top 14 for Oyonnax, starting sixteen of them. 

Standing in their way are Martín Landajo and Tomás Cubelli, both products of the PladAR system to have played for the Pampas XV and have come to be regarded as the top two scrumhalves since Rugby World Cup 2011. Hourcade faces the decision of retaining both or changing his strategy to have a third scrumhalf in June. The form of Figuerola suggests that nether Cubelli nor Landajo can be said to be guaranteed of their places. 

Missing - N/A

Fly half is not a position in which Argentina is lacking players in Europe. Santiago Fernández and Benjamín Urdapilleta have been regulars for Bayonne and Oyonnax while Ignacio Mieres has played with less frequency for Worcester and Nicolás Sánchez likewise for Bordeaux-Begles. All should be free to play in June but teenager Patricio Fernández will be in New Zealand playing in the IRB Junior World Championship. 

Santiago Fernández is likely to be playing inside centre and is a strong candidate to captain the team. He could form a 10-12 combination with incumbent Nicolás Sánchez retaining the pivotal position of fly half. Urdapilleta looms as the logical player to cover from the bench while Pampas XV reserve fly half Santiago González Iglesias would appear ahead of Mieres. 

Missing - Patricio Fernández

Gabriel Ascárate returned from Scotland to Argentina with a neck injury and is on his way back to being considered for selection likely after June not before or during. Joaquín Domínguez, who is another based in Scotland, and players involved with the Pampas XV are also to be under consideration. Ascárate faced Italy last November as did Javier Rojas who entered as a replacement. Rojas was one of a number of players involved in the IRB Pacific Cup who stand a strong chance of being selected. 

Also under consideration will be Matías Moroni and Jerónimo de La Fuente in addition to Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga who is back from Europe and involved with Argentina's Sevens team. Another who could be called up is future Newcastle Falcons inside centre Juan Pablo Socino. Overall the centre options are numerous but Hourcade may well be inclined to field a player from the back-three in the mid-field and could, indeed, also move a centre to the back-three.

Missing - Marcelo Bosch, Gonzalo Tiesi

The form of Martín Bustos Moyano has, like last season, been of note in France. He is likely to be included as will utility Joaquín Tuculet who has struggled for game time with Bordeaux-Begles this season with whom he is off contract in May. Also to be considered are Santiago Cordero, who debuted for the Hourcade coached side last November, and Oyonnax's Lucas González Amorosino. 

González Amorosino together with Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga would be the returning options from Rugby World Cup 2011 to play in the back-three. The selection of either player is far from being a foregone conclusion due to there have been noteworthy performances by Pampas players in Australia including Román Miralles, Manuel Montero and Matías Orlando.

Missing - Horacio Agulla, Juan Martín Hernández, Juan Imhoff, Gonzalo Camacho (injured)

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