Thursday, December 11, 2014

RWC 2015: Contenders to Represent Argentina - The Back-row

Créditos: Rodrigo Vergara UAR
In the third part of an eight part series Argentina 2023 takes a look at the players in contention to be selected for Argentina's World Cup squad to play in the back-row. Despite back-row being a hybrid position in which it is common for a player to be able to play in two or even three of the back-row spots there will be balance to the players named with Daniel Hourcade looking both for players for certain positions and others of utility value. Hourcade said recently that he is looking at sixty players of whom 30 will be those involved in Rugby World Cup 2015. He is, in other words, looking at four players per position. The back-row can be divided into two groupings - flanker and number eight with, thus, a total of twelve players to be shortened to six or even five to play in England and WalesWho will they be? 

Back-rowers
Argentina's unique approach to the back-row allows for players to switch positions almost at will. On many occasions there is no set fetcher and players such as Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamón are instances of players moving around the back-row and starting against premier opposition in all three positions.

Under Hourcade such a policy saw Fernández Lobbe playing in his club position at Toulon of openside flanker wher he was very much a flanker in the Rugby Championship. Starting with him was Pablo Matera while Leguizamón played at the back of the scrum. This was the first choice combination with Benjamín Macome arguably being the leading replacement only for him to be injured after breaking his arm against Ireland.

Without Macome Hourcade went to Leonardo Senatore, a player in and out of the team under Phelan but one Hourcade was able to use to better effect. He started seven consecutive test matches after Matera was injured against South Africa in Salta. The Matera injury was the first of a series which created a crisis that Hourcade managed superbly due to his preparation which started against Chile and Uruguay.

In contract to Phelan who selected professional players whenever possible Hourcade preferred to invest time in promising domestic based players in an effort to get more out of them and to help them make the step up to international level. The back-rowers utilized in 2014 showcase that his policy was highly successful.

Without Fernández Lobbe, Leguizamón, Matera and Senatore Hourcade selected Rodrigo Báez and Javier Ortega Desio as his flankers v Uruguay and Lisandro Ahualli de Chazal started in place of Báez v Chile. Changes against Ireland saw Báez joined by Tomás De la Vega and Macome, back from France, in both tests with Ortega Desio on the bench. Ortega Desio then started v Scotland with De la Vega moving to the back of the scrum.

Of note was the on-selection of Tomás Leonardí whom had been receiving regular game time for Edinburgh. He was not named in the Rugby Championship squad with Fernández Lobbe and Matera being the flankers for the opening two fixtures and Leguizamón joining Fernández Lobbe for the nest two before getting injured in Australia.

The fit-again Macome started in La Plata with Fernández Lobbe as the other flanker but Corcho then missed the closing fixture in Mendoza due to the birth of his child in Toulon. Without Fernández Lobbe Hourcade opted to promote Rodrigo Báez from the bench who started with Macome while Ortega Desio was called up as the replacement.

Macome was injured against the Wallabies and did not play in November. Matera, Corcho and Leguizamón also all missed out as did De la Vega whose career is now over. The CUBA back-rower did not want to become a professional player and will not be a Puma any longer. He had been a highly promising players who performed strongly in the 2008 win over France in Córdoba.

Hourcade adjusted by calling upon players who had been involved earlier in the year for Los Pumas or Los Jaguares. In the squad for November were Báez, Ortega Desio and debutant Facundo Isa. Báez and Ortega Desio started against Scotland but Báez left early through injury with his tour ended. Hourcade called upon the uncapped Tomás Lezada who at age 20 was called up despite Leonardí playing and being based nearby.

The selection was one of the biggest surprises both in terms of justification and of outcomes. Lezana was unused v Italy but came on early v France and made more tackled than any other player. He impressed as ball-carrier and general worker too which meant Hourcade's option taking had been a master stroke.

Both Isa and Lezana had been involved with Los Jaguares in the Americas Rugby Championship just weeks before the European tour. Both started matches as did Báez while Franisco Panessi, who faced Uruguay and Chile in 2013, was given a start v Uruguay 'A'. Isa was utilized at the back of the scrum in his natural position and he also played there v France following Senatore's injury.

2014 was, indeed, a year of grooming for Isa who had earlier played in the Tbilisi Cup. A developmental Jaguares side won the competition after defeating Spain, Georgia and Italy 'A' and did so with Lisando Ahualli de Chazal captaining from the back of the scrum. He did so while his brother Antonio Ahualli de Chazal had been involved with Los Pumas. Lautaro Casado, Nicolás Proto and Lucas Maguire were the remaining players involved in the back-row in Georgia.

Flankers
Eight Contenders - Rodrigo Báez, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Facundo Isa, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Tomás Lezana, Tomás Leonardí, Pablo Matera, Javier Ortega Desio

Number-Eight
Four Contenders - Benjamín Macome, Leonardo Senatore, Antonio Ahualli de Chazal, Lisandro Ahualli de Chazal.

Other Positions
Front-row
Second-row

Player
Position
Age
Club
Union
Rodrigo Báez
Flanker
25
Liceo
Cuyo
Juan Fernández Lobbe
Flanker
33
Toulon
France
Facundo Isa
Flanker
21
Lawn Tennis
Santiagueña
Juan Manuel Leguizamón
Flanker
31
Lyon
France
Tomás Leonardí
Flanker
27
Edinburgh
Scotland
Tomás Lezana
Flanker
20
Lawn Tennis
Santiagueña
Pablo Matera
Flanker
21
Unattached

Javier Ortega Desio
Flanker
24
Estudiantes
Entre Rios
Antonio Ahualli de Chazal
Number Eight
27
SIC
URBA
Lisandro Ahualli de Chazal
Number Eight
25
Universitario
Tucumán
Benjamín Macome
Number Eight
28
Bayonne
France
Leonardo Senatore
Number Eight
30
Worcester
England

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