Monday, June 23, 2014

International Rugby: Italy Losing Argentine Eligible Players

Photo WRU
With the creation of the PladAR system in Argentina the regular exodus of players abroad is much smaller than what it once was. Players continue to link up with European clubs of a variety of levels but the number of players staying in Argentina has been encouraging according to many observers as it has enabled coaching staff with greater player access than what coaches had previously. For Italy UAR player control has almost brought to an end the capping of Argentine players of Italian descent. The loss of would-be Italian internationals has contributed to Italy having limited depth in a number of positions which has seen the test team regress as shown in the away losses against Fiji, Samoa and Japan this month.  

The creation of the PladAR centres and contracts for the leading domestic based players directly impacted on a decreased proportion of uncapped Argentine players moving to Italy. Being exposed to better facilities than previously the players based in Argentina have fewer reasons to leave and many are involved with Los Jaguares, Argentina's official A side which caps players for non-internationals making them unable to subsequently play for Italy or anybody else. With it Italy has lost a source of capping players that it was previously able to use with regularity, and indeed, did so. 

The ethnography of Argentina is such that up to 60%, or 24 million, of the country's population are of Italian descent. For this reason there has been a high source of Argentine players eligible to represent Italy based on IRB Regulation 8.1 which states that players with a parent or grandparent from a country other than his or her own can play international rugby for that country. 

It is, of course, common place to have Pumas players with Italian rather than Spanish surnames in the team. Back-rowers including Leonardí, Longo, Matera and Senatore are but a few examples. Of those from Argentina to have been capped by Italy some have qualified on residency grounds after playing in Italy for three years, but for many IRB Regulation 8.1 has come into effect.

Italy's squad last November featured six players from Argentina of whom some, including Sergio Parisse and Gonzalo Canale, had been nationalized after moving from Argentina to Italy with their families. In most instances over the years, however, Argentine nationals were capped by Italy after having been approached to do so following moves from Argentina to play abroad either in Italy or another European country. 

Of those from Argentina involved in the November test matches for Italy all were capped by prior to the establishment of the PladAR system. Joining Parisse and Canale were Matías Aguero, Martín Castrogiovanni, Alberto di Bernardo and Luciano Orquera, a number of whom fell through the cracks due to Argentina lacking any form of professionalism and, aside from international friendlies, not having any regular competition outside of the Rugby World Cup.

Italy, on the other hand, was a member of the Six Nations. One of the players who was directly responsible for the success of Italy prior to gaining a place in the old Five Nations was Diego Domínguez, a Puma who went on to play for Italy under the defunct IRB eligible ruling which enabled players to change nations. Domínguez scored 983 points for Italy in 74 tests from 1991-2003.

In 2008 former Pumas Headcoach Santiago Phelan was interested in Calvisano centre Gonzalo Garcia, a former Argentine under 19 and under 21 player from Mendoza. So much so that he was named in Argentina's A squad. At the same point in time Garcia was also of interest to Italian coach Nick Mallet. The former South African Headcoach named Garcia in Italy's squad and capped him against the Springboks the very month which he had been selected for Argentina A. 

Garcia had arrived in Italy in 2007 while prop Martín Castrogiovanni moved to Italy in 2001 and was capped by the John Kirwan coached Italy in 2002. Garcia started against Japan this past weekend forming a 10-12 combination with Luciano Orquera from Córdoba, the same city that hosted Los Pumas v Scotland. Orquera moved to Italy in 2002 and debuted for the Italians in 2004. 

Searching for options at fly half Jacques Brunel capped Rosario's Alberto di Bernardo in June 2013 as a 32 year old. Italy attempted to obtain Juan Pablo Socino who is another that qualifies via Regulation 8.1. To his credit Socino opted to instead concentrate on playing for his home country, a nation with a history of greater depth in his positions of fly half or inside centre. He remains uncapped at test level but has played for Los Jaguares but would arguably have already played regularly under Brunel. 

Unlike previous coaches Brunel has had fewer Argentine players to select from. Part of the reason has to do with Italy joining the Rabo Direct Pro 12 and thus having a depleted domestic league, while another part comes from the UAR keeping more players at home. Those from Argentina capped by Italy are all approaching 30 or are older and the possibility now exists for Italy to no longer have Argentine players. 

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