Thursday, January 22, 2015

RWC 2015: Contenders to Represent Argentina - The Fullbacks

Photo UAR
In the final installment of an eight part series Argentina 2023 explores in detail the players who are in contention for a place in Argentina's squad for Rugby World Cup 2015. The final position is that of fullback, a position which Argentina had unstable selections in post Rugby World Cup 2007 under Santiago Phelan. The arrival of Daniel Hourcade has seen this significantly altered as Los Pumas now have a clear first choice player whose place in the World Cup is secure. He will, nonetheless, require one or two deputies in the World Cup squad with specialist fullbacks as well as utility options both requiring careful consideration. 

Santiago Phelan replaced Marcelo Loffreda in early 2008 and coached Argentina for the majority of the following six years of international competition. Under Loffreda Juan Martín Hernández had been the leading fullback before moving to fly half in time for Rugby World Cup 2007 which saw Ignacio Corleto returning to the position and playing the duration of the World Cup.

Corleto had a good season after the World Cup for Stade Français but like a number of players would miss out on selection for June 2008's tests against Scotland and Italy due to the Top 14 Semi Finals and final being played very late - June 21-28. In his place Phelan called-up Bernardo Stortoni from the Glasgow Warriors.

Stortoni started five of Argentina's six tests that year with Horacio Agulla replacing him by moving from wing to fullback for the final test of the year against Ireland in Dublin. Agulla would be retained throughout 2009 due to Corleto suffering a serious injury which ended his career. Stortoni would not be selected again with Agulla playing fullback throughout 2009.

Injuries forced Phelan to make notable selections during 2009 which included that of Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga debuting at Twickenham at inside centre. The following June he was playing fullback, his natural position, and would start all 2010 tests in the position as well as Argentina's only 2011 pre-World Cup test against Wales.

For Rugby World Cup 2011 Rodríguez Gurruchaga was therefore the leading fullback and would start against England, Scotland and New Zealand in Argentina's tournament matches. Starting against Romania and Georgia was Lucas González Amorosino who, prior to the World Cup, had played tests as a winger.

The 2012 season saw changes due to the non-availability of European based players in June. Phelan thus looked to domestic players with Joaquín Tuculet debuting against Italy and Román Miralles earning his only cap to date against a non-South American opponent. Neither player featured in the Rugby Championship with Phelan switching from González Amorosino to Rodríguez Amorosino before dropping the latter after the fifth round La Plata test.

For the November tour he would then move Hernández from fly half to fullback and retain him there until his final test in charge against Australia in Rosario in October 2013. With Hernández missing in June 2013 Phelan selected Martín Bustos Moyano for Argentina's three tests v England and Georgia. Just like the prior year he would see no further test duty under Phelan all year.

With Hourcade replacing Phelan less than two weeks before the European tour there was not much room for experimentation. He did, nonetheless, select Tuculet at fullback for the second and third of his tests in charge against Wales and Italy in November 2013. The test v England had featured González Amorosino starting at the back.

Hourcade utilized the early months of 2014 differently to his predecessor as he fielded players that he wanted for the duration of the year. This saw him using the CONSUR Cup to experiment against Chile and Uruguay and use to to prepare for the June internationals v Ireland and Scotland before having the leading players from these tests join the seniors based in Europe for the Rugby Championship. Hourcade thus had González Amorosino starting one test, Santiago Cordero another and Tuculet the remaining twelve.

Tuculet is therefore comfortably Argentina's leading fullback heading into the World Cup. He is starting in the position in the Guinness Pro 12 for the Cardiff Blues while González Amorosino is doing so for the same team on the wing. Hernández, for his part, is playing fly half for Toulon and Bustos Moyano is wing for Bayonne.

Phelan's players are therefore all but out of the running. Hernández will be used by Hourcade at inside centre and fly half, Agulla at outside centre and wing leaving only González Amorosino from the Phelan era as an option for the World Cup. Cordero's tests under Hourcade as a winger appear to place him as the third fullback option for the World Cup as well as one of the top five wingers. Other than New Zealand, Argentina's pool opponents of Georgia, Tonga and Namibia are such that rotation is certain.

Cordero is a part of the 2015 High Performance program as one of six fullbacks.The five others being Emiliano Boffelli, Pedro Lértora, Román Miralles, Ramiro Moyano and Santiago Viaña. Of them Moyano is arguably in the best position to push for selection. He played fullback in South American Championship test matches in 2011 and 2012 and was wing v Chile in 2014 under Hourcade.

Contenders - Lucas González Amorosino, Santiago Cordero, Ramiro Moyano, Joaquín Tuculet.

Other Positions

Lucas González Amorosino
Cardiff Blues
Santiago Cordero
Ramiro Moyano
Joaquín Tuculet
Cardiff Blues

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