Tuesday, December 9, 2014

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

Photo: UAR
Los Pumas headcoach Daniel Hourcade is seeking four players per position to be considered for Argentina's Rugby World Cup 2015 squad. He is to evaluate the possible options across all positions and, in late June, narrow them down to have thirty players, the number which coaches are entitled to in a Rugby World Cup squad. Since replacing Santiago Phelan in late October 2013 Hourcade has utilized a large number of players with clear experimentation having occurred in certain positions and less so in others. He has also left a telling impression by not selecting a number of players who had been regulars under Phelan. Indeed some who were first choice in 2013 are now out of the picture altogether and will not be involved in the World Cup in any capacity whatsoever. This has resulted in a rebuilding phase at the wrong time but it has also clarified who Hourcade is giving time to show their worth. Who then are the likely four players in each front-row position? 

Loosehead Prop
Under Phelan Marcos Ayerza took over from Rodrigo Roncero following his retirement in 2012. Hourcade retained Ayerza for his first tour as coach in November 2013 but he was not involved in the June internationals due to club duty in England. Ayerza was also not initially named in the Rugby Championship training squad and was only called-up in July. He would nonetheless join the squad and start all Rugby Championship tests and the three-test November tour.

Without Ayerza Hourcade experimented with Pampas XV players Lucas Noguera Paz and Bruno Postiglioni starting a test each in the CONSUR Cup and also both starting in June against Ireland and Scotland. With Postiglioni unfit for the November tour Hourcade opted against taking a third loosehead prop to Europe.

Under Phelan Nahuel Lobo had been utilized as a replacement in 2012 and 2013. Hourcade retained him for the November 2013 tour but selected Noguera Paz and Postiglioni ahead of him throughout 2014. This saw Lobo's international involvement restricted to Argentina's 'A' team, Los Jaguares. Lobo and Santiago Gárcia Botta started matches in the tournament and are both now playing in France with Lobo at Montpellier and Gárcia Botta at Stade Français. Also at Montpellier is the uncapped Emiliano Gárcia.

The three could be said to all be contenders with them all having played under Hourcade for the Pampas XV. None played in the 2014 Americas Rugby Championship in October for Los Jaguares with Lucas Noguera Paz being joined by Roberto Tejerizo who started against Uruguay 'A'. Also missing were Pablo Henn and Guillermo Roan both of whom were utilized in 2013 by Phelan.

Four Contenders - Marcos Ayerza, Santiago Gárcia Botta, Lucas Noguera Paz, Bruno Postiglioni 

Hooker
Agustín Creevy was named by rugby websites and the general media throughout the world as the world's best hooker last month. His performances in the wins over Australia and France were highly impressive as was his play in other matches. He was, however, not selected by Santiago Phelan as the starting hooker.

The arrival of Hourcade saw Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe no longer being the captain due to injury but with Creevy out Juan Manuel Leguizamón was the skipper in November 2013. Creevy was then named new permanent captain in June 2014 and has shown el huevo's choice to have been bang on.

The selection of Creevy replaced Eusebio Guiñazú who had started twenty out of twenty-one tests under Phelan which Creevy only starting once, against Australia in Perth in 2013. Guiñazú was retained for the November 2013 tour, a tour in which Hourcade had a mere ten days to select and prepare the team.

With Creevy missing Guiñazú's deputy was Pumita Santiago Iglesias Valdez who had debuted v Uruguay earlier in the year. Hourcade utilized Iglesias Valdez in 2014 but Guiñazú was not selected at all. Instead Hourcade recalled Matías Cortese who Phelan had never selected during his 2008-2013 reign as head coach.

Both Mauricio Guidone and Martín Garcia Veiga started June internationals in 2013 under Phelan but are yet to play for Argentina under Hourcade. Instead Cortese, González Valdez and Julián Montoya all featured against Chile, Uruguay, Ireland and Scotland and were the players involved in the Americas Rugby Championship.

The one -time capped Tomás Baravalle and the uncapped Facundo Bosch were the hookers involved in the Tbilisi Cup. Both started matches and with their involvement and there being no international duty for Guiñazú it would appear certain that his time with Los Pumas has come to an end. He, nonetheless, is contracted to Munster until January.

Four Contenders - Matiás Cortese, Agustín Creevy, Santiago Iglesias Valdez, Julián Montoya

Tighthead Prop
Very serious injuries saw Hourcade unable to select either Juan Figallo or Maximilano Bustos in 2014 and the latter appears to have played his final rugby match such is the severity of his back injury. With both gone Hourcade decided against selecting professional players that had played under Phelan, notable Juan Pablo Orlandi, Francisco Goméz Kodela and Matías Díaz.

Of the three only Díaz received game time, facing Ireland and Scotland in June with one test start Thereafter he was outside of Hourcade's squad with Ramiro Herrera and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro being the two tightheads for all other test matches thoughout the year.

The uncapped Lucas Martínez joined Díaz in the squad for the Americas Rugby Championship while Damián Arias and Gastón Cortes featured for Los Jaguares in the Tbilisi Cup. With Figallo's return to the international frame far from guaranteed the performances of all will continue to be monitored.

Four Contenders - Ramiro Herrera, Juan Figallo, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matías Díaz

Player
Position
Age
Club
Union
Marcos Ayerza
Loosehead Prop
31
Leicester Tigers
England
Santiago García Botta
Loosehead Prop
22
Stade Français
France
Lucas Noguera Paz
Loosehead Prop
21
Lince
Tucumán
Bruno Postiglioni
Loosehead Prop
27
La Plata
URBA
Matías Cortese
Hooker
29
Toulon
France
Agustín Creevy
Hooker
29
Worcester
England
Santiago Iglesias Valdez
Hooker
21
Universitario
Tucumán
Julián Montoya
Hooker
21
Newman
URBA
Ramiro Herrera
Tighthead Prop
25
Castres
France
Juan Figallo
Tighthead Prop
26
Saracens
England
Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Tighthead Prop
25
Lyon
France
Matías Díaz
Tighthead Prop
21
Bristol
England

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