Rugby Championship players to watch: Argentina
New Zealand's All Blacks wing Sonny Bill Williams vies with Argentina's (No. 8) Leonardo Senatore. AAP Image/AFP, William West
The 2012 Rugby Championship begins this Saturday with new team Argentina joining traditional rivals Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
As the newbies, the Pumas will no doubt attract attention during the competition. But which of their players should we be keeping an eye on?
Argentine rugby has long been renowned for their scrummaging pedigree and they need this stereotype to hold up to a tough inspection during their inaugural campaign in the Rugby Championship.
Over the past six to seven years, we have seen a large portion of Argentina’s propping stocks retire from the international game. The Pumas have lacked depth in this area, something they used to be able to boast about.
In starting tighthead prop Figallo, they have a player that would have been up at the top of those front-row stocks.
At the 2011 World Cup he was named the player of Group B, which was quite an achievement considering the tough scrummaging units that populated that group. He achieved that at just 23 years of age, which is very young as a prop.
Figallo has been the anchor of Montpellier’s scrum during their fight to become one of French rugby’s powerhouses. A lot is going to be expected of the Argentine scrum. More importantly for Figallo, that facet of the game will be relied upon by Los Pumas.
Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe
Lobbe was an obvious choice as skipper, but it will be fascinating to see how he goes in a competition of this stature and level.
Lobbe is a backrower noted for his high level of work around the pitch and he has an incredible desire to push further. The Pumas should be looking to capitalise on his fantastic ball-playing skills.
The Championship will be a higher level than Argentina are used to playing. They will need to adapt to the high levels of skills of the teams they are facing.
Lobbe is the man who is capable of matching his opponents in this department. He will need to lead from the front in this department, in addition to providing the appropriate levels of passion and work-rate.
Juan Martín Hernandez
El Mago finally gets an opportunity to showcase his ability on the big stage for the first time since his standout performances in France in 2007. Since then, a torrent of bad fortune with injuries has kept him from building any momentum.
The pivot, who now plies his trade with Racing Metro in Paris, is probably one of the most gifted players Argentina has ever produced. It is a shame that injuries and negative tactics have blunted Hernandez’s development, as he could easily have been one of the top players in international rugby.
Hernandez has a howitzer of a boot and this can pin teams back if used effectively. But aside from that, he is an incredibly strong defender. This attribute will be important when playing against the behemoths of the Saffa pack and the likes for New Zealand.
While under utilised, he has a fantastic range of passing, which if employed properly could be the key to opening up the rigid Argentine side. He will have no fears taking the ball to the line. I am really looking forward to seeing how Hernandez goes at this level.
Juan José Imhoff
Argentina has never struggled to produce industrious outside backs but there has been a real dearth since Ignacio Corleto hung up his boots. Even then, he missed a lot of time due to injury.
Now though, like the cliché goes, you wait for ages for the bus and two come along at once.
Lucas Amorisino showed some of his promise at the Tigers but has blossomed since his move to Montpellier. But it is his back-three partner Juan Imhoff who I will be advising people to keep an eye on.
Imhoff has electric pace. But what makes him such an exciting player is his ability to move quickly off both feet; his eye for mismatches in defence; and his confidence to back his instinct.
One of the criticisms of Los Pumas has always been their lack of flair in their backline. Imhoff could be the man that brings them into a new era.
If the Pumas are to compete in this competition, they will need to add more arrows to their bow.
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