Tuesday, July 15, 2014

International Rugby: Italy interested in Argentine prop Luciano Leibson

Luciano Leibson
Photo Rabo Direct Pro 12
Twenty-six year old Luciano Leibson recently extended his contract with Italian team Zebre. The uncapped Argentine front-rower is to play the upcoming season for the Italian side in the Rabo Direct Pro 12. His decision to remain at the Parma based team will see him play a third season for the club despite having had offers from Benetton Treviso and from teams in England's second division. The former Pumita is therefore eligible to  not only represent his home country but also Italy. Despite having played in the 2008 Junior World Championship Leibson has never been selected for Los Pumas, Los Jaguares or the Pampas XV. As such his eligibility has not been capped by a country and he could become an Italian international. 

Leibson played six Rabo Direct Pro 12 league matches for Zebre last season and has made a total of sixteen appearances in his two seasons in Parma. He did not hold down a regular position in the team but has nonetheless been held onto by the club as it is seeking to deliver better performances in the 2014-2015 season than was the case in its two seasons of existence to date.

Since entering the Rabo Direct Pro 12 to replace the defunct Aironi Zebre has failed to achieve significant results as it finished bottom of the Celtic-Italian league and also did not make an impact in the Heineken Cup. The club will not be involved in the new European Rugby Champions Cup due to it finishing lower than Benetton Treviso which sees the rival Italian side being Italy's only representative in the new competition.

In not featuring in the new elite top level European competition Zebre will be able to focus entirely on the Rabo Direct Pro 12. As such it is certain to have the benefit of fielding full strength sides more often and doing so against under strength  lineups with teams repeating the pattern of prioritizing European rugby over the Rabo Direct Pro 12. 

Of the Italian squad which faced Fiji, Samoa and Japan last month two props play their rugby for Zebre. Both are from abroad with Dario Chistolini being South African and Matías Aguero is Argentine born. Neither hold down regular starting positions in the test team with Chistoloni's two tests having come from the bench. 

Both Dave Ryan and Salvatore Perugini are no longer a part of Zebre and none of the new arrivals ahead of the 2014-2015 season could be termed high profile props. The uncapped  prop Andrea Lovotti is joining from Calvisano and is likely to be behind Leibson who looms as a likely feature in the match day 23 as one of four props together with Matías Aguero, Andrea de Marchi and Dario Chistolini.

The quantity and quality of Argentine players being capped by Italy has decreased in recent years following the implementation of the PladAR system which has offered Argentine based players a pathway to development which was previously non-existent. Since its creation the number of top level Argentine players staying home has increased significantly. 

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