Tuesday, December 23, 2014

RWC 2015: Contenders to Represent Argentina - The Fly Halves

Photo UAR
In the fifth edition of an eight part series Argentina 2023 looks into the players in contention to represent Argentina at Rugby World Cup 2015 at fly half. The pivotal position of is one that Los Pumas Head coach Daniel Hourcade already has clearly  organized. His first choice player is Nicolás Sànchez who started twelve out of fourteen test matches for Argentina in 2014 in the position. Both Santiago González Iglesias and Juan Martín Hernández were given one start each in the position but Hourcade utilized both regularly in the mid-field. Big questions remain as to who Hourcade will select and he has already clarified that he is looking at four players per position which means that three players other than Sánchez will be examined tested before Hourcade makes a decision in late June as to who his play-makers are to be. Who then are the players is contention for a possible place in England / Wales 2015?

Fly Half
Although Nicolás Sánchez was in Argentina's Rugby World Cup 2011 squad he was given little game time. Felipe Contepomi started against England and scrum half with Santiago Fernández playing at inside centre. Fernández then moved to pivot for the remaining matches which saw him starting at 10 against Romania, Scotland, Georgia and New Zealand.

Sánchez had been called up after Juan Martín Hernández had been unable to recover from a serious knee injury. Phelan's non-selection of Sánchez in 2010 was thus brought into question. Hourcade made no such decisions in his first twelve months in charge after he replaced Phelan in October 2013. Instead el huevo put faith in new players across the park.

The year began with Sánchez starting the CONSUR Cup test match against Chile and Santiago González Iglesias doing so against Uruguay. González Iglesias was a surprzing inclusion and was retained in June as the back-up option to Sánchez. As such Hourcade opted against selecting players based in Europe as he deemed González Iglesias as deserving an opportunity despite Santiago Phelan never having selected him.

When González Iglesias started against Uruguay it was his fourth test cap after he had played for Argentina against Chile and Uruguay in 2009 and Chile in 2011. Phelan was not in charge of these Pumas sides unlike Hourcade in the 2014 CONSUR Cup. The change of coach saw a change of philosophy with Hourcade not selecting available players unless they were in the frame for the Rugby Championship.

Phelan's selections saw professional players named in June that would then not be selected at all for additional test match duty all year. In the position of fly half this saw Ignacio Mieres starting against Italy in San Juan and France in Córdoba in 2012 and Benjamín Urdapilleta against France in Tucumán. Although Argentina won two out of three matches there was a high turn-over of players with Mieres never playing again for Argentina and Urdapilleta only doing so the following June.

Sánchez was missing as he was in the off-season ahead of the Rugby Championship. The same was true of Juan Martín Hernández, Santiago Fernández and Marcelo Bosch who were all based in France and capable of playing fly half in addition to other positions. Phelan named Felipe Contpeomi at inside centre for the June 2012 tests but would he would miss that year's Rugby Championship.

Argentina therefore entered the first Rugby Championship with players who had not played international rugby at 10 and 12 since the World Cup. Phelan's first choice fly half was Hernández who started five of the six matches with Sánchez replacing him as an injury precaution against South Africa in Mendoza. Sánchez then played fly half in November with Hernández moved to full back.

In 2013 Phelan made similar selections with Urdapilleta starting against England in Salta and Contepomi doing so in Buenos Aires. Benjamin Madero then played 10 against Georgia with Urdapilleta on the bench. Neither player featured again in 2013 or in 2014 with Sánchez starting all six Rugby Championship matches under Phelan and Hourcade retained him for the three tests in Europe against England, Wales and Italy.

With Sánchez off contract with Bordeaux-Begles he returned to Argentina and was free to play in June. This saw the Urdapilleta missing out despite his impressive form in the Top 14 for Oyonnax. Also missing was Patricio Fernández who was playing for the Pumitas in the Junior World Championship. Hourcade thus put his faith in González Iglesias and did so throughout the year with him playing also in the centres and proving to be an impressive defender.

Sánchez started in the 2014 wins over Australia and France but was on the bench against Italy. Starting in Torino was an experimental side with Hernández back at fly half. He performed well to remind everybody of the options available for a World Cup squad that is going to need depth in options given the diversity of pool opponents in the form of New Zealand, Georgia, Tonga and Namibia.

Hourcade will certainly be weighing up the options to start against both Georgia and Namibia at fly half with Urdapilleta being such a name in consideration given his performances over a sustained period in the Top 14. Also in consideration will be Javier Rojas, Sebastián Poet and Juan Pablo Socino all of whom started matches in the Tbilisi Cup for Los Jaguares. Of them Rojas toured Europe under Hourcade in November 2013 but did so as a mid-fielder.

The selection picture was cleared up in October in the Americas Rugby Championship. Patricio Fernández was the starting fly half for Los Jaguares v the USA Select XV, the uncapped Ignacio Albornoz started against Uruguay 'A' and Brian Ormson, who is also uncapped, started at 10 v Canada 'A' with Fernández playing fullback. All are former Pumitas with Fernández being the most notable due to having broken the scoring record this year.

Of the players involved with Los Jaguares in 2014 one or two will be under consideration for the World Cup squad. With Hernández expected to play inside centre there is thus going to be room for Sánchez to be joined by three other players.

Fly half
Four Contenders - Patricio Fernández, Santiago González Igelsias, Nicolás Sánchez, Benjamín Urdapilleta.

Other Positions


Patricio Fernández
Fly half
Santiago González Iglesias
Fly half
Nicolás Sánchez
Fly half
Benjamín Urdapilleta
Fly half

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