One of the most shocking international selections this year so far was the absence of lock Patricio Albacete from the initial selection of Pumas to train for the Rugby Championship, along with prop Marcos Ayerza.
Albacete has long been a fixture in the Argentine side, having played for them for over a decade and having been a first choice at three World Cups and being a key member of Loffreda's side that beat all the 6 Nations side between 2005-07. In addition to that, he is also a Top 14 winner with Toulouse and has played in many big matches with one of the biggest teams in Europe, and still remains their starting option.
Unfortunately his tally of 57 caps over 10 years is far lower than it might be with other nations (Sam Whitelock has 51 caps after making his debut in 2010) and perhaps he hasn't had the recognition he might have had if he was in a more glamorous team or in a more glamorous position.
Whilst obviously players should be judged on form not past glories, it is not debatable that Albacete comes with a far higher pedigree than the other Pumas locks. And it isn't form why he was left off the Pumas list of players.
The reason why was thanks to reported infighting in the Pumas camp last year, which led to Santiago Phelan leaving his post after a relative lack of progress and string of unsuccessful results, culminating in an extremely disappointing annihilation in front of the home fans against Australia. Which saw Phelan's reign, along with the career of Felipe Contepomi end on a rather low note.
Rumours suggest that the Pumas camp was split. With Albacete on one end and Phelan on the other, now what seems to have come to pass is that Albacete along with Ayerza has been penalised for it.
This is highly flawed and illogical thinking from the UAR and Daniel Hourcade, formerly an assistant to Phelan who took over last November in troubled circumstances.
There is a key difference between the skill of coaching and managing a club side to an international side. With a club side, you can mould the personnel to your liking and to your style of play. But in international rugby the skill of the man in charge is different as you can't choose who your players are.
An international coach has to find a style of play not that suits him, but suits the personnel of his team. For instance Declan Kidney with Ireland played a style of play that went well with Munster, but for the last years of his time in charge the personnel in the Irish set up had evolved to include a very talented attacking fly half from Leinster who was far more creative than before along some good options out wide.
The Irish squad under Kidney as a result perhaps didn't see the potential it had on paper, especially when you consider some of the breathtakingly efficient and clinical performances Leinster were putting on in Europe at the same time.
The other important point is the national team coach must act more as a manager of the different personalities and this is what the top coaches will be paid for. Unlike at club where you are free to change it about, you can't choose who your best players are. The players need managing, and a national team coach needs to have a talent for this as well as coaching to get the best out of a team.
There are a few instances of this happening elsewhere. Gareth Jenkins in charge of Wales was unwelcoming towards players like Gavin Henson, Colin Charvis and Brent Cockbain who had more unconventional personalities. Henson ended up being left out for the likes of Sonny Parker and Brent Cockbain missed out on the World Cup for an random out of the blue call up to Gloucester journeyman Will James. Wales crashed out of the World Cup in 2007 and Jenkins was sacked.
|Robbie Deans wasn't a particular fan|
of Matt Giteau in charge of Australia.
The Wallabies have missed out on the
quality that Giteau showed in the
Heineken Cup final as a result.
Similar happened with Robbie Deans and Australia. A talented coach, but when he had rifts with George Smith, Matt Giteau or Quade Cooper, he'd ditch them. All were quality players and their absences hurt the team, and his time in charge of the Wallabies ended without him making to a second World Cup.
It's a lesson than when appointing a national team coach, you need one that is a good manager as well as a coach, more so than at club level.
Daniel Hourcade would extremely foolish to go into his first Rugby Championship campaign in charge leaving out one of the Pumas all time great forwards. Equally so in playing Bruno Postiglioni ahead of one of the most dependable and reliable looseheads around in Marcos Ayerza. (Both Ayerza and Albacete played key roles in the Pumas scrum renaissance last year, one of the bright spots of a difficult year).
Let's hope that sense prevails, and that UAR, Hourcade and Albacete can all be professional and put aside differences and the Pumas give themselves the best chance in what is already shaping up to be a difficult enough rebuilding period for the side as it is. General logic is that you are better off with your best players.
Just as a reminder, of what Hourcade may be missing out on without Albacete. Here is a few of his best bits from down the years.
A superb minute of play against Scotland during the 2007 World Cup, where Albacete pretty much gains Argentina 40 metres of ground through winning two turnovers in a minute during the quarter final.
A giant performance against England in 2009, creating turnovers, winning lineouts and winning metres.
Albacete secured Argentina's place in the World Cup quarter final turning over Scotland's last desperate attack.