|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.