Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rugby Championship: Pumas Injury and Selection Update

Photo WN
Argentina's opening Rugby Championship fixture will take place next Saturday in Pretoria. As in 2012 and 2013 SANZAR has arranged for South Africa to receive Los Pumas in the opening round and then have the reverse fixture take place in round two. The squad is already settled in Pretoria and involved in more extensive preparation than in previous years. The team is, nonetheless, understrength with a combination of injury concerns and also some regular players yet to have been selected by headcoach Daniel Hourcade this year. Some players currently outside of the squad will not be selected while there are others who will be added during the tournament or in time for the November internationals.

To return during Rugby Championship
Juan Martín Hernández - El Mago was injured playing in a warm-up fixture for Los Pumas agianst Top 14 club side Grenoble. He played the first half of the first of two fixtures but was unable to take any part in the second match. He has since recovered and is now training at 100% with the squad in South Africa. Hernández is expected to complete a positional change from fullback to inside centre, the position he started in against Grenoble in San Isidro. Hernández has experience in the position for Racing Métro but is uncapped as mid-fielder.

Juan Imhoff - Argentina's best finisher impressed for Racing Métro this past season and upon return to Argentina trained as the starting right winger. He was set to start in the position in a back-three together with Joaquín Tuculet and Manuel Montero but is now out injured with a broken bone in his foot. The injury is such that he will play no part in the opening two rounds of the Rugby Championship. He should, however, be fit to tour Oceania and could therefore be starting against the All Blacks in Napier on September 6. 

Benjamín Macome - Having suffered a broken arm in the opening match of June against Ireland in Resistencia the initial diagnosis was that Benjamín Macome would miss the Rugby Championship altogether. It has recently become known, however, that he is likely to recover in time to receive game time in the second half of the competition. His performance against the Irish arguably put him in pole position to start in the Pumas 8 shirt in the Rugby Championship. His return to full fitness will therefore put the likes of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Pablo Matera, and Leonardo Senatore under pressure.  

Out of Rugby Championship
Gonzalo Camacho - Having been a first choice winger under Phelan Camacho was a player thought of as being certain for the 2014 Rugby Championship but Hourcade has been unable to select him. The injury that Camacho sustained playing for Argentina against New Zealand last September was so severe that he has undergone multiple shoulder reconstruction surgeries but has nonetheless not yet fully recovered. His club, the Leicester Tigers, have not yet had him involved in a match. He will not only miss the Rugby Championship but is also set to be out of action for Argentina until 2015. 

Gabriel Ascárate - Having returned home from Scotland with a neck injury in early 2014 Gabriel Ascárate recovered sufficiently to train with Los Pumas and was selected by Hourcade for the CONSUR Cup and the home internationals in June. Against Ireland, however, Ascárate was forced from the field in his home town of Tucumán with a serious knee injury. Having suffered ligament damage he underwent surgery and is is out of rugby until 2015. 

Juan Figallo - Argentina and the world's leading tighthead prop will play no part in the 2014 Rugby Championship due to requiring more recovering time frim a back injury sustained in the fifth round of the 2013 Rugby Championship. Having given Los Pumas tremendous front-foot ball from the scrums Figallo was hurt to the extent that he missed the entire 2013-2014 Top 14 season. Having now recovered sufficiently to train but not yet to play Figallo is now in England with his new club, Saracens and is to debut in the Aviva Premiership later this season. Selection for Los Pumas is not an option with him most likely to only return for the 2015 Rugby Championship. 

Maximilano Bustos - Like Figallo, Maximilano Bustos is out of action with a serious injury. Unlike Figallo, however, Bustos remains contracted to Montpellier and efforts have been made to see him return to action whenever possible. Hourcade has therefore opted to develop new players which has seen Ramiro Herrera overtaking Juan Pablo Orlandi and Matías Díaz to now be considered the next best Argentine tighthead prop. Bustos will play no part in the Rugby Championship and is also not going to be selected by Hourcade for the November tour of France, Italy and Scotland. The extent of the loss of talent will become clearer during the tournament but playing for castres Herrera has demonstrated that he is a quality player who is very useful as a ball-carrying prop.

Not Selected
Patricio Albacete - One of the biggest names in Argentine rugby remains outside of the senior squad despite being match fit and having had an impressive season for Toulouse in 2013-2014. Hourcade selected Albacete for the November 2013 tests but is yet to select him this year. With there being off-field issues of note there are questions as to whether, or not, Albacete will ever play again but Hourcade has down played the claims of the media by maintaining that Albacete could be called-up at any time. Pato is currently in France training with his club.

Martín Bustos Moyano - Having provem himself as being a very reliable goalkicker and a solid winger in the Top 14 for both Montpellier and Bayonne Martín Bustos Moyano is a player who was destined to earn a significant number of test caps. It did not eventuate with Phelan selecting but not using him in the 2012 Rugby Championship and having him play fullback in June 2013. Phelan opted for Horacio Agulla and Gonzalo Camacho as his regular wingers with Juan Imhoff and Lucas González Amorosino being next in line. Hourcade has, thus far, demonstrated interest in Imhoff and Manuel Montero as his regulars with there being no place in sight for Bustos Moyano. 

Julio Farías Cabello - A regular under Phelan starting constantly throughout 2011-2013, the time of Julio Farías Cabello has now ended. Aged 35 he has been overlooked for both the Pampas XV and international duty in 2014 and the chances of a return are all but nil. Hourcade has gone against selecting veterans wherever possible. This, in part, explains the non-selection of Albacete and others such as Gonzalo Tiesi and Eusebio Guiñazú. The task of identifying a team capable of reaching the Semi Finals of Rugby World Cup 2015 has seen Hourcade doing what Phelan failed to do, build for the future. 

Manuel Carizza - Having been a first choice player since 2009 Carizza was a surprize exclusion from the squad currently preparing for the opening round of the Rugby Championship. With Albecete not selected the decision to leave out Carizza is all the more questionable. Hourcade has, however, insisted that it is temporary and that an appearance is very likely later on in the tournament. Carizza is likely to be selected for Argentina's away matches against New Zealand and Australia in the third and fourth rounds of the compeition.

Matíaz Díaz - A lot of faith put put in the 2013 Pumita by Phelan. So much so that with Marcos Ayerza injured ahead of the 2013 Rugby Championship opener Phelan moved Juan Figallo to loosehead prop and started the test with Díaz at tighthead. He has subsequently not been given equal opportunities with Hourcade having started him once, against Scotland in June. A recall remains a strong possibility due to the length of the Rugby Championship and the demands played on a tighthead prop.

Santiago Fernández - Having had arguably his best performance of professional rugby in 2013-2014 for Bayonne Fernández was a player thought of as being certain to be amongst the training squad but Hourcade had other ideas. Fernández is in France preparing for the new season and could be called up at any time to be used as either a fly half or inside centre. It is highly likely that he will play at some stage during the tournament or in November.

Eusebio Guinazú - Despite having been the first choice hooker throughout 2012 and 2013 there was no place for Guiñazú in Daniel Hourcade's squad. A test recall is highly unlikely due to him not having featured in June despite having been released from Bath at the completion of last season. A recall is seemingly unlikely given his age and the selection of Agustín Creevy as captain.

Juan Pablo Orlandi - As he is still playing professional rugby at Bath the chances of a return to the test team are very much realistic. He has, nonetheless, been outside of the senior squad since Hourcade replaced Phelan. Hourcade is set to use Ramiro Herrera as he starting tighthead prop with Orlandi and Bordeaux prop Francisco Goméz Kodela both also being behind Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro who is in the squad. 

Juan Pablo Socino - Socino was on duty for Los Jaguares in the IRB Tbilisi Cup in June. His invovlement was monitored and he remains an option for the same positions as Santiago Fernández. With Hourcade keen to field Nicolás Sánchez and Juan Martín Hernández together the game plan is to utilize a pivot in the mid-field. Depending on pre-season and early season form for Newcastle Socino could therefore be called-up for the later rounds or the November internationals. 

Gonzalo Tiesi - The injury plagued career of Gonzalo Tiesi has seen him miss many more tests than he has appeared in. He was involved in Hourcade's first test as coach when he appeared from the bench v England last November but lasted just three minutes. With him gone and Marcelo Bosch on club duty Hourcade utilized Horacio Agulla at outside centre against Italy. This past June Jerónimo De la Fuente was given an opportunity and he is now in South Africa with the squad. Tiesi is in England preparing for the Aviva Premiership with Socino.  

Benjamín Urdapilleta - Former Top 14 giants Biarritz Perpignan were both relegated last season after finishing in the bottom two. Newcomers Oyonnax survived with Urdapilleta being one of the main reasons as his goalkicking and playing making were central to the team winning home matches. He had seemingly put himself in a strong position for selection for June but Hourcade went for the Buenos Aires based Santiago González Iglesias. Urdapilleta is training in France ahead of the upcoming Top1 4 season. Like Ignacio Mieres of Worcester his international future appears to be over. 

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