Tuesday, May 27, 2014

International Rugby: New Los Pumas coach bursting with 'Hourcadism'


Photo UAR
New Argentine rugby headcoach Daniel Hourcade is quickly establishing himself as a vastly different operator than his predecessor Santiago Phelan. The selection of players for the upcoming international series against Ireland and Scotland in addition to the 2014 Rugby Championship show a significantly different organizational methodology to that of Phelan. Hourcade's sweeping changes have seen some big name players left out as an eye to the future and an importance based on collectivity are the centre pieces of a fresh outlook in the final year before the World Cup.  

Hourcade was given a rescue mission last November. Following the resignation of Santiago Phelan after Argentina's poor display in Rosario, to close the Rugby Championship, the UAR offered Hourcade the job of Los Pumas Headcoach. Just eight days after Phelan's departure Hourcade named a squad of thirty-one players to tour England, Wales and Italy.

The squad included some debutants and players not selected for the senior squad by Phelan. With direct experience as the coach of the Pampas XV and Los Pumitas Hourcade selected Santiago Cordero, Javier Rojas and Santiago Iglesias Valdez who never played under Phelan in addition to youngsters who had including Pablo Matera, Matías Díaz and Tomás Lavanini.  

Both Joaquín Tuculet and Gabriel Ascárate missed out on the Rugby Championship but like the above mentioned players all made Hourcade's November squad. The vision of Hourcade was a quick-fix solution for a serious problem but was already showing signs of revolution. Veterans with slim chances of appearing in the World Cup including Julio Farías Cabello and Eusebio Guiñazú were retained but are now seemingly gone. 

Phelan made no secret that infighting within the squad had directly impacted on Argentina's performances in 2013. Some Pumas reported as being anti-Phelan missed out on Hourcade's squad for the Rugby Championship named on Saturday. Patricio Albacete and Marcos Ayerza were both absent from the list and Hourcade clarified his decision in insisting that ''nobody is out of the World Cup.'' 

The door remains open for all players based both abroad and at home. Hourcade nonetheless made it clear in advance that there would be fundamental changes as the UAR looks to implement a new ban on European based players in Los Pumas after Rugby World Cup 2015. Players have been privy to the new policy from the beginning but there have, nonetheless, been players such as Marcos Ayerza, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Fernández and Gonzalo Tiesi signing on to remain in Europe. 

Several days before announcing a Rugby Championship squad without Albacete, Ayerza, Fernández and Tiesi Hourcade stated that ''the idea is to give game time to the players that haven't had any.'' He also justified their non-selection by saying ''we need forty players for the World Cup.'' Over twenty of the thirty-one players named by Hourcade to face Ireland and Scotland did not play professional rugby in Europe or Super Rugby this season. Hourcade therefore did not replicate Phelan's June 2012 and June 2013 selections which saw may European based players not involved in the Rugby Championship selected. 

The selection policies and statements made by Hourcade are very much revoluntionary. They are bold and high risk but have been made with a clear long-term goal which seeks to make the best possible use of the vastly limited time tha presented itself between Phelan's exit and the World Cup. The June and Rugby Championship squads mark the confirmation of a new approach that could perhaps be coined 'Hourcadism'. Is putting the team ahead of the individual and the long term ahead of the short responsible for some of the big names currently on stand-by for places in the Rugby Championship and some paying the piper for stepping out of line under Phelan?

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