Monday, May 26, 2014

Rugby Championship: Is it really wise to leave out Patricio Albacete?

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.


  1. Good stuff Paul. I'm hoping that the logic of leaving Albacete out doesn't have anything to do with politics and it has to do more with long range planning for the world cup, that is giving other players quality international matches in those positions who would not otherwise get the chance. Postiglioni, though, i doubt will ever be a first rate prop in the same league as Ayerza no matter how many international matches he plays. Just an opinion. Lavanini and Alemano on the other hand are solid bets for thinking about the future.

  2. All I can say is that Argentina are in for another torrid year. Many teams could not afford to leave out the quality of Albacete and Ayerza, let alone an Argentina team that is at it's lowest point in 20 years. They are in trouble and with some players voting with their feet and staying in Europe I can see thrashings on the horizon in the RC and another winless year. Long term the policy is probably correct and the addition of Super Rugby will feed the national side but they'll need more than one team and it's going to be very difficult in the short term. I hope their southern hemisphere partners don't run out of patience too soon because they can and will be turfed out of both competitions, and rightly so, if they can't be competitive. After RWC 2007, I genuinely didn't think Argentina would go back to this level but they have. Ireland will absolutely smash them next month, there is no doubt in my mind.

  3. Just to clarify, Hourcade is just a puppet in this whole thing. If you really want to know why not only Albacete and Ayerza, but also Santiago Fernandez and Guiñazu are being left out, you should focus on the puppeteer, Agustin Pichot. Yes, he has been key to getting Argentina the international recognition Los Pumas deserved, but he also runs Argentinean rugby as if he own it, profiting from marketing and other shady contracts and excluding legends such as Hugo Porta. Argentina has what it takes to level the playing field at the players level, unfortunately, management is still very much an amateur squad.

  4. No they don't have the players yet. They need a squad and they don't have it. I'm predicting 12 losses from 12 this year but things to get better in the next decade leading in Japan 2019. As for Pichot? What you said there is actually libelous.

  5. What a malicious comment on Pichot, lol. Argentine rugby has vast potential, is growing phenomenally, and Hourcade knows the system and the players inside and out. The Puma's objective is to be ranked number 4 in the world. And to achieve this goal it needs 60 first rate international players. Everyone knows what Albacete and Ayerza can do. The trick is to develop players that can play those positions so that if your next game is against Georgia, for instance, in a world cup, a coach would be able to rest them and field replacements that are just as or near that level of reliability. Also the Pumas needs to find those players for Super Rugby. Now is the moment to start getting ready for the franchise. The Pumas are not going to start fighting yesterday's battles. The most immediate goal is to field a Super Rugby team in 2016 that will fight it out in the middle of the table. And that's what is going to happen. Count on it.

    1. Sorry, but if your objective is to be ranked number 4 in the world, then leaving out your best players and harming your chances of winning games isn't a particularly smart way to go about it.

      The Rugby Championship and international rugby isn't "to develop" players, it is to compete in. A young tighthead is far better off coming in with Ayerza at loosehead than getting destroyed like they were by England last year.

      You develop players in the grassroots, the U20's, the Jaguars and onto gain experience at top level domestic rugby reads to come into top international rugby. Throwing players in who have played very few games at a higher level than the Vodacom Cup in the Rugby Championship is equivalent to just bending down and begging to have your ass spanked repetitively.

  6. I doubt they are going to get 'destroyed' as they did against england. against england it was ridiculous what happened. phelan opted to choose players that had never played together which was kind of insane when the pampas were perfectly available to meet the challenge. and the 4nations is a crock by the way. argentina plays under extreme disadvantages and it is a fundamentally unfair competition just from the scheduling and the level of game preparation that all the teams have over the Pumas. dont make me laugh. In view of the circumstances they've done incredibly well with one hand tied behind the back against the boks, the wallabies, and the blacks. what happened in Soweto was and is always a live risk when you go against these teams without adequate preparation meaning quality meaningful games against the best of the best. and why wouldn't we want to be number 4 team ? its what the SANZAR expects of the Pumas at minimun, anyway. the best four teams in the world play in the southern hemisphere. its what gives the tournament its polish. well get there, dont you worry. not next year or the next, but pretty soon after that. so why you boys with narrow short sightedness and a bellyfull of sad stories go on and on, the men got work to do.

  7. P.D. BEH ?? the scribbler with the formidable rugby savvy that after Matera's debut with the Pumas summed up his game as "not ready" ? and now you are giving advice to el Huevo on how to develop his players ??

    1. Got a link for that? Happy hunting Mr Anonymous ...

  8. happy hunting my big toe....we both know you wrote it and im not the only one that read it.