Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rugby Championship: Pumas team to face South Africa

Los Pumas en Sudáfrica
Photo UAR
Los Pumas Headcoach Daniel Hourcade has confirmed the starting lineup for Saturday's opening round fixture of the Rugby Championship against South Africa in Pretoria. Set to start the test match are three players yet to have taken to the field in a Rugby Championship fixture. Argentina is also to feature a new captain with hooker Agustín Creevy set to lead his country for the first time. In comparison to the team that started the 2013 Rugby Championship twelve months ago in Johannesburg the team features ten changes as Hourcade has quickly acted to transform the South Americans into a team that can have the best opportunity of winning Rugby Championship matches. The team is nonetheless below full strength with a a number of players injured or missing for non-selection motives. 

Last August the Santiago Phelan coached Pumas had a day to remember at Soccer City as the defensive pattern of the South Americans was torn to pieces by a rampant Springbok outfit which scored an impressive nine tries. The 73-13 scoreline was humbling but it highlighted the need to make better use of limited time in preparing for international competition.

The test was not the first of the year. To the contrary Argentina had already faced Brazil, Chile and Uruguay in the South American Championship and also received England for two test matches and Georgia for one. The team involved in the match was, nonetheless, playing for the first time together. Phelan had selected the best teams he could from players free to represent Argentina at the time. Hourcade has done otherwise as he has made it his focus to build a team.

Such a policy has seen some players overlooked which meant the strongest possible Pumas team was not always on the field. Indeed in the home internationals against Ireland and Scotland in June Hourcade left out a host of European based professional rugby players who are also not a part of the squad for the Rugby Championship. The decision to do so enabled those based in Argentina who are a part of the Rugby Championship squad to have more time together and facilitate preparation together with those returning.

Having joined Castres late last season Ramiro Herrera was uncapped. Hourcade was able to acquire his services for both June and the Rugby Championship and has utilized the opportunity to give him his first cap and he will now be starting for his country against South Africa this Saturday. Hourcade opted against selecting Juan Pablo Orlandi or Francisco Goméz Kodela in June for the reason that neither were in his Rugby Champioship plans.

Such a move has seen Herrera ready to a significantly greater extent than was the case twelve months ago when Phelan selected Matías Díaz to start. Díaz did so due to Marcos Ayerza being injured for the match which saw Juan Figallo moving to loosehead prop. But with Figallo and Maximilano Bustos both having suffered serious injuries Hourcade invested time in Herrera and former Newport-Gwent Dragons tighthead Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo.

Herrera will start with Tetaz Chaparro on the bench. Joining Herrera in the front-row will be Creevy and Ayerza which means the front-row. On the bench will be Tetaz Chaparro, Matías Cortese and Lucas Noguera Paz -  three players invested heavily in by Hourcade in 2014. Similarly in the second-row Tomás Lavanini is to start with Mariano Galarza returning from club duty. Matías Alemanno will be on the bench and should he receive game time he will earn his first Rubgy Championship cap just like Herrera, Tetaz Chaparro, Cortese and Noguera Paz.

Neither Lavanini and Galarza started twelve months ago as Manuel Carriza and Patricio Albacete did so. Both have, nonetheless, been performing to a very high level and arguably are amongst the top three Argentine second-rowers at this point in time. Hourcade released Carizza who is playing Currie Cup rugby for Western Province while Albacete remains outside of the squad wth Hourcade expressing his need to have more second-row options ahead of the World Cup.

Although no longer being the captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe remains one of Argentina and the world's leading back-rower. The two time European club champion will join Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Pablo Matera in a back-row of note. It is possibly not the best Argentine back-row however due to Benjamín Macome being injured. Macome appeared to have put himself in a position to start at number 8 before breaking his arm in Resistencia against Ireland. Providing cover from the bench is to be Leonardo Senatore whose last test start was against South Africa in Mendoza.

Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez continue to be Argentina's leading halves and will maintain their 9-10 combination. They have provided good ball for Argentina's backs but Los Pumas have not been able to produce the required level of danger to score a sufficient quantity of points to win Rugby Championship test matches.

In searching to overturn this Hourcade has followed through with a master plan of playing Juan Martín Hernández at inside centre. This has seen Santiago Fernández yet to play a test in 2014 while Juan Pablo Socino is also awaiting a call-up. Hourcade is looking to have two pivots close to the action and also a solid defender at inside centre. Hernández ticks both boxes and will be covered from the bench by Santiago  González Iglesias who is a fly half that has been prepared to act as cover for both positions.

Joining Hernández in the mid-field will be Marcelo Bosch who was Argentina's best back and player of the 2013 season. Having completed an impressive move from Biarritz to Saracens Bosch went on to start in the Heineken Cup and Aviva Premiership finals and is now regarded as one of the leading outside centres in Europe despite being a natural fly half.

No specialist centre will be on the bench with Hourcade having instead gone for Lucas González Amorosino as the third replacement back. Covering fullback and wing González Amorosino could come on for any of Horacio Agulla, Joaquín Tuculet or Manuel Montero who are to be the starting back-three. Both Tuculet and Montero will be appearing in their debut Rugby Championship matches. Their selection comes after both started tests earlier in the year while European based players were not selected.

Montero had been expected to start with Hourcade having trained his team with this in mind. Agulla had been utilized as the likely replacement with Juan Imhoff having been playing on the right wing in warm-up matches against Grenoble. Imhoff will now miss the opening two Rugby Championship matches which sees him joining regular winger Gonzalo Camacho on the injured list.

Hourcade started Agulla at inside centre against Italy last November and should a change be required in mid-field then Agulla is set to be moved to outside centre with González Amorosino completing the change on the wing. Agulla featured at fullback from the bench in 2013 in Johannesburg too but González Amorosino is very much the player set to be used, if required, in that position this weekend.

1
Marcos Ayerza
Leicester, England
2
Agustín Creevy
Worcester, England
3
Ramiro Herrera
Castres, France
4
Mariano Galarza
Gloucester, England
5
Tomás Lavanini
Racing Métro, France
6
Pablo Matera
Leicester, England
7
Juan Fernández Lobbe
Toulon, France
8
Juan Leguizamón
Lyon, France
9
Martín Landajo
CASI, URBA
10
Nicolás Sánchez
Unattached
11
Manuel Montero
Pucurá, URBA
12
Juan Martín Hernández
Unattached
13
Marcelo Bosch
Saracens, England
14
Horacio Agulla
Bath, England
15
Joaquín Tuculet
Unattached
16
Matías Cortese
Liceo, Cuyo
17
Lucas Noguera Paz
Lince, Tucumán
18
Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
La Plata, URBA
19
Matías Alemanno
La Tablada, Córdoba
20
Leonardo Senatore
Worcester, England
21
Tomás Cubelli
Belgrano, URBA
22
Santiago G Iglesias
Alumni, URBA
23
Lucas G Amorosino
Unattached

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