Thursday, November 6, 2014

International Rugby: 50th cap for Juan Martín Hernández

Photo UAR
It has taken over eleven years but now Juan Martín Hernández joins the list of Pumas players to have been capped fifty or more times. Having been named to start for Argentina at inside-centre this coming Saturday el mago will lead the players out of the tunnel onto the field at Murrayfield in what, remarkably, is to be his first test match in Scotland since 2005. The extensive delay in him reaching the fifty mark is due to having suffered serious injuries during his career and Argentina having, until 2012, lacked regular competition outside of the Rugby World Cup.

The thirty-two year old debuted for his country in April 2003 against Paraguay in the South American Championship. Playing fullback Hernández was one of nine players earning their first test caps. He was joined by names such as Patricio Albacete, Lucas Borges and Eusebio Guiñazu and is the only remaining Puma from that year still in the squad. 

After having performed well against Paraguay and Uruguay head coach Marcelo Loffreda named Hernández in his squad for the June 2003 home tests against France. He started the second test at fullback and then faced South Africa in a highly competitive match won 26-25 by the Springboks in the final minute. 

Aged just 20 Hernández was selected for Rugby World Cup 2003 as second-choice fullback behind Ignacio Corleto and he faced Canada in a warm-up fixture. Loffreda named Hernández on the bench for the opening fixture against Australia and again against Ireland in the final pool match. He started the tests against Namibia and Romania and crossed for two tries against the latter. 

After the World Cup he became a professional player. His career abroad started in Stade Français where he joined Corleto in addition to Rodrigo Roncero and Agustín Pichot. He remained at the club until 2009 and left having won the Top 14 twice and been finalists in the Heineken Cup. By 2007 he was playing fly half and his performance in that year's final saw him move to pivot for Los Pumas.

Hernández would be called upon to play fly half in the famous opening match of Rugby World Cup 2007 in which Los Pumas defeated France 17-12 in Paris. It was just the second time he had started a test in the position with the other having been in Argentina's 39-22 win over Italy in Genoa in 2005. Coincidently Argentina will face Italy in the same city this month. 

With Argentina's opening performance having sent shock waves around the world the Stade Français fly half would go on to be the best pivot in the tournament. He started against Georgia, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and France in the Bronze Final and then did so in his next available fixture which was in Córdoba in June 2008 against Italy. 

His first test since the World Cup started well but he was forced off with a broken hand in the first half. The match was also his first under a new coach as Santiago Phelan had replaced Marcelo Loffreda in early 2008. Phelan retained Hernández for Argentina's tests against France and Italy that November but he missed out on facing Ireland due to injury. 

2009 began well with Hernández starting in a home test victory over England in Salta. He then left to play proefessional rugby but in South Africa for the Natal Sharks. He had signed to play in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby but his stay was cut shot after he required back surgery. His career continued but in France as he joined Racing Métro whom he played for until 2014. 

His time at Racing Métro saw him being a regular at both fullback and fly half and he, also, at times played in other positions. In early 2011 he was injured playing inside centre against Bourgoin. The extent of the injury was such that he was unable to play for Argentina in Rugby World Cup 2011. This resulted in his Rugby Championship test against South Africa in 2012 being his first cap since 2009.

Hernández played as Phelan's starting fly half in the competition. He started five of the six with him being unfit for the Mendoza draw against the Springboks. Phelan subsequently moved Hernández to fullback with Nicolás Sánchez playing fly half in the November internationals and thereafter. The change gave Argentina more play-makers on the park. 

The arrival of Daniel Hourcade saw rethinking with Hernández being moved to inside centre in an effort to have greater attacking options and a solid defensive arrangement. His fiftieth test will be in this position with him playing outside of Sánchez and inside Marcelo Bosch. The same arrangement was used for five Rugby Championship tests this year. Hernández's performances saw him signed by Toulon whom he will join in early 2015 while he is expected to play Super Rugby in 2016. 

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