Thursday, December 18, 2014

RWC 2015: Contenders to Represent Argentina - Scrumhalves

Créditos: Rodrigo Vergara - UAR
In the fourth part of an eight part series Argentina 2023 takes a look into the players who could represent Argentina at Rugby World Cup 2015. While previous editions focused on the forwards the current one will be the first to look at backs. The position of scrumhalf has become increasingly settled over the past two years with it all but clear who are the two leading contenders to play for Los Pumas at the World Cup. Questions remain as to who the other players could be to provide cover. Head coach Daniel Hourcade recently specified that he is seeking four players per position to select from for  the World Cup. Who are the players is contention for a possible place in England / Wales 2015?

A year out from Rugby World Cup 2015 Nicolás Sánchez has a firm hold on the starting fly half position with Martín Landajo and Tomás Cubelli competing to determine who will play inside him as the starting scrumhalf. Of the three though none were in the frame this time four years ago despite all having debuted for Argentina from 2008-2010.

Landajo debuted v Chile in 2008 but did not play again until facing Uruguay in 2010. The test against Los Teros marked the debut appearances in international colors of both Cubelli and Sánchez but none of them would be involved in either the June or November internationals which meant that this time four years ago coach Santiago Phelan had not tested any at an appropriate level.

Phelan's three scrumhalves used in the post Agustín Pichot years in June and November internationals were Nicolás Vergallo, Alfredo Lalanne and Agustín Figuerola. Of them the former two were selected as Argentina's two scrum halves in Rugby World Cup 2011 with Vergallo starting all four pool fixtures and the Quarter Final v New Zealand. Lalanne came off the bench for three of the five matches.

Lalanne retired early to begin his professional career after the World Cup while Vergallo was retained throughout 2012 as the leading Argentina number 9. Vergallo, though, was not able to play for Argentina in June 2012 due to being contracted to Toulouse who won that year's Top 14 Final. In his place Landajo started against Italy and France in San Juan and Córdoba while Cubelli started against France in Tucumán.

Vergallo returned to start the opening three rounds of the Rugby Championship before Landajo replaced him for the latter three and was retained for the November tour starting against all of Wales, France and Ireland. On the bench in Europe was Vergallo twice and Cubelli once and in June 2013 Landajo and Vergallo started once each against England while Cubelli did so against Georgia.

The June 2013 Buenos Aires test would be the final appearance by Vergallo for his country. Phelan opted for just Landajo and Cubelli in the 2013 Rugby Championship and Hourcade likewise in the November 2013 tour of England, Wales and Italy. Of the nine tests Landajo started seven and Cubelli two. Hourcade then gave both starts in the 2014 CONSUR Cup and had Landajo starting twice against Ireland and Cubelli once against Scotland.

They were the two Pumas scrumhalves receiving game time in the 2014 Rugby Championship with Landajo starting five matches and Cubelli one. In November, though, Cubelli replaced Landajo who had worn the nine shirt v Scotland in the opening tour international. The Belgrano Athletic scrumhalf then started in the wins over Italy and France and was the captain against the Italians.

Throughout the post-2011 period the one Argentine scrumhalf getting regular game time at the elite level has been Agustín Figuerola. He played for Brive from 2010-2013 and is now playing his second season as the first choice scrumhalf for Oyonnax. He has, nonetheless, not been called-up for international duty since June 2010 with his final test being against Scotland in Mar del Plata.

Also still in France is Nicolás Vergallo. Now aged 31 he is playing for Tarbes in the Pro d2. He has played all fourteen matches this season, starting twelve of them. The club, though, is not overly competitive as it sits in 12th position out of 16. Oyonnax is presently 9th in the Top 14 with Figuerola having started eight matches out of twelve.

Hourcade was free to pick both French based players for the June internationals in 2014 but decided against doing so. He had already identified his top two scrumhalves and had utilized the previously uncapped Felipe Ezcurra from the bench v both Chile and Uruguay in May. The form of Figuerola should, nonetheless, be sufficient for him to be in the top four playing for two or three spots in the World Cup squad.

Ezcurra was the starting scrumhalf for Los Jaguares in the Tbilisi Cup against Georgia in June with the uncapped Marcos Bollini of Club Newman starting against Spain and Emerging Italy. Bollini was not involved in Los Jaguares for the Americas Rugby Championship with Ezcurra starting against the USA Select XV and Canada 'A' and another uncapped player, Gonzalo Bertranou of Mendoza playing 9 against Uruguay 'A'.

Four Contenders - Tomás Cubelli, Felipe Ezcurra, Agustín Figuerola, Martín Landajo 

Other Positions

Tomás Cubelli
Felipe Ezcurra
Agustín Figuerola
Martín Landajo

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