Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rugby Championship: Santiago Fernández to miss 2014 tournament

Photo Rugby Wrap Up
Three months before the start of the 2014 Rugby Championship it has become evident that Argentina will be playing the competition with a different inside centre than from the first two years of the tournament. The two players to have featured in the 12 shirt under Santiago Phelan will not play in the 2014 edition due to one having retired and the other remaining in France. Daniel Hourcade will now need to identify an alternative to Santiago Fernández.   

Twenty-eight year old Santiago Fernández will not play in the 2014 Rugby Championship. The fly half / inside centre is to instead be on club duty in France with Bayonne. The thirty-two time capped pivot was quoted on the official website of Aviron Bayonnais as saying "I am really happy to be able to take part in the preseason training together with all my colleagues... I have a lot to gain by remaining a part of this project."

Fernández will, in other words, be involved in pre-season activities and the entire Top 14 season with Bayonne. He will, therefore, not be able to represent Argentina in the 2014 Rugby Championship due to the dates of the two tournaments overlapping. Of note is that by making himself fully available for club duty he is to receieve a superior salary than otherwise. 

Last week Bayonne announced that Fernández had signed a new contract to remain at the club for an additional two years. Fernández arrived at Bayonne after the 2013 Rugby Championship and went on to be an important player, as he featured in seventeen Top 14 matches with fourteen of them being in the starting lineup. He joined Bayonne from Montpellier with whom he had played fifty-nine Top 14 matches for from 2010-2013.

Fernández was a mainstay in the Pumas team from 2008-2013. In the first two editions of the Rugby Championship the former Hindú pivot featured in eleven of the twelve Rugby Championship matches. He started all six matches in 2012 in a mid-field combination with Saracens' Marcelo Bosch and started two of the five matches in 2013. 

Replacing Fernández in 2013 was Felipe Contepomi who is now retired. The pair had been Argentina's 10-12 combination at Rugby World Cup 2011 with Fernández playing the opening match against England at inside centre before moving to fly half for the remaining matches, including the Quarter Final against New Zealand. 

Throughout his career Fernández has been a fly half capable of playing in the mid-field. His versatility has seen him starting eight tests at fly half and nineteen at inside centre. Daniel Hourcade will now need to determine a replacement capable of covering both positions. Options do exist but positional shifts and / or call ups for new players are inevitable.

Of the squad presently involved in the CONSUR Cup against Uruguay and Chile Hourcade has Santiago González Iglesias as his fly half and Gabriel Ascárate as his inside centre. Jerónimo De la Fuente, who played outside centre against Los Teros, has experience at inside centre for the Pampas XV. Another is Javier Rojas who was a replacement against Italy last November. 

Also in contention are a number of players based abroad. Regular outside centre, Marcelo Bosch, played against France at inside centre in 2012 and fly half against Italy in 2007. A move to inside centre is a strong possibility with Gonzalo Tiesi being a specialist ready to play outside centre. Wingers Horacio Agulla and Manuel Montero are also strong candidates for the 13 shirt with Agulla playing in the position against Italy and Montero having been utilized from the bench to cover both outside centre and left wing against Uruguay.

Nicolás Sánchez will almost certainly remain Argentina's starting fly half and Hourcade will have him for all test matches throughout 2014. Benjamín Urdapilleta and Juan Pablo Socino can both provide cover and also play inside centre in June while 2013 fullback Juan Martín Hernández could potentially do so in the Rugby Championship. Teenage fly half Patricio Fernández will highly likely be in the Rugby Championship squad but in June will be in the IRB Junior World Championship. 

Fernández could therefore be playing at inside centre outside Sánchez in June but it is not a foregone conclusion. Daniel Hourcade will confirm his June squad at the end of May. Fernández should be available for June and November.


  1. AAARGH!!! I dispair of professional rugby most of the time!!...

    I HATE the club v country nonsense that constantly devalues the international game (The first All Blacks v England test this June is a classic example of this). Fernandez is a key player for the Pumas and will be weakened without him... No matter way in which anyone dresses this up, the Pumas and international rugby have lost out big time with this, yet again... Just what Argentina did NOT need when facing the best three countries in world rugby. Sickening how money and greed kills sport (...and rugby seems particularly prone to this...). So dull and predictable... (I'm counting down the seconds to reading about a string of injuries to the Pumas prior to the Rugby Championship, another 70 point thrashing in South Africa, the team choking in games they should have won, about their massive potential which is never actually realised etc...)

    And another thing... My cynical prediction (after years of seeing professional rugby being torn apart by greed and politics) is that Argentina will end up without a Super Rugby team when the broadcasters decide NOT to pay SANZAR the increased money they are hoping for...SANZAR will then be forced to make an embarrassing u-turn and say "sorry Argentina, but the format we presented to the broadcasters didn't stack up, so we have to make a new deal without you...". I'm convinced it'll happen... Just as I'm sure that...

    1) Argentina will fail to win a game yet again in the rugby championship,
    2) They'll be thrashed by Ireland in June (and probably knocked over by Scotland too)...
    3) The Pumitas will fail big time in NZ in the JWC...
    4) Most of the European based Pumas won't come back to Argentina for the new Super Rugby team, opting to play for money in Europe (This, following the unlikely sequence of events that the broadcasters A) will deliver the pot of gold SANZAR needs to keep the Aus/NZ/RSA alliance happy B) before giving the leftover crumbs to the UAR and C) allowing the Argentinian team to go ahead).
    5) The Pumas 7s will continue to wallow in mediocrity
    6) International rugby will become even more pallid than it already is...

    I want to be positive, but I've been following this game too long to know that most of the time, money and egos are what drive the game, rather than what is right for the sport... and that on the field, very very rarely the underdog wins or does anything miraculous (at least compared to other sports)...The Pumas have had their moments since 2008, but those moments are so rare these days... The RWC 2007 (and all that they achieved in the Marcelo Loffreda era) is becoming such a distant memory... and rugby can't afford to let a rugby country like Argentina go down the drain... the international game at the top level seriously lacks credibility as it is...

    1. Problem with your argument pal is you're expecting the clubs to be mere service providers to the international game, and to a foreign team at that.

      International game regularly devalues the club game, in fact that is a large part of the reason why the Pro12 is so poor commercially when it has supposed marquee games like Leinster/Ospreys heavily diluted.

      I'm assuming what you're referring to with the statement "money and greed kills sport" references French clubs right?

      Considering that the Pumas 2005-07 era under Loffreda would have not been possible without them, and that Argentina would be nowhere near the position they are in today without them, that is an odd stance to take.

      In fact, without the opportunities to earn in France, Argentina would have suffered, as would have Georgia, Samoa and USA. International rugby would be a lot more "pallid" and would lack more credibility without the clubs.

      Talking of which, you are right about the rare underdog wins in the sport. But at the same time, virtually every single Tier 2 nation has improved considerably over the past 5 years. If you want to see a "pallid" international game check out rugby in the mid 2000's. The results of Tier 2 nations has improved relatively dramatically since then. When Scotland last travelled to USA they won by 60 odd points playing with 14 men, when Italy last travelled to Japan they put 50 points on them, neither of those results will be remotely close to being repeated this year.

      The greedy club game which I'm assuming you are referring to has allowed for Samu Manoa the bricklayer, it will be Samu Manoa the professional rugby star facing Scotland this year. It also meant that Rodrigo Roncero the experienced veteran international prop played for the Pumas in 2007, instead of Rodrigo Roncero the doctor playing a lower standard of rugby.

      What really holds the international game back is the closed shop tournaments and clique fixture lists. Those in the clique gain huge financial advantages over the rest by milking their protected cash cow. Canada and USA will be facing Scotland with less preparation and far less budget this summer.

      The Argentine situation Super Rugby is the fault of the UAR in my opinion. They were never going to bring back every Argentine and enforce a no overseas based players rule with just one team.

      In this particular case though, the UAR can't expect a player like Santiago Fernandez to gamble on his and family's future. He might suddenly get ousted by a new youngster next year and get dropped and be left on a comparatively weak deal as a reserve for the Pampas XV. Bayonne offered him the security of a 3 year contract which the Pumas can't offer.

      The fault certainly doesn't lie with the individual, but with the lack of a neater tidier international schedule which doesn't collide with domestic rugby so much. A compromise to reduce the quantity of games in both international and club rugby is needed.