December 7, 2013
Seasons biggest game ahead
Puma coach Santiago Phelan announced the starting fifteen for seasons biggest game, earlier than expected. Once again, the most modern of stadiums in the country will host the best team in the world, the All Blacks against Los Pumas. After a week off to recover from the toil of four tiring rounds of Rugby Championship, the Pumas are now focused on the job ahead.
This is the strongest possible team, the only absence that of injured Gonzalo Camacho. The return of Patricio Albacete is also important. Injured in the opening round, he missed the following three tests and now joins Julio Farías as locking partner; both are abrasive and very good defenders.
Marcos Ayerza, Eusebio Guiñazú and Juan Figallo proved themselves in the front row against the All Blacks three weekends ago and go into the game confident in their scrummaging abilities. Guiñazú is a far more accurate lineout thrower than Agustín Creevy, whom he replaces in the starting fifteen. The loose forward combination will start for a third consecutive test, with young Pablo Matera growing with every game. Captain Juan Fernández Lobbe and triple Championship try-scorer Juan Leguizamón have more than 50 caps each and bring experience to the role.
Martín Landajo, try-scorer a year ago against the All Blacks in the same Estadio, returns to join Nicolás Sánchez, one of the better Argentine performers in this Rugby Championship, in the halfbacks. Also back in the team are the first-choice centres Santiago Fernández and Marcelo Bosch, rested against Australia. Their combination was missed in Perth; they are expected to have a busy Saturday late afternoon.
Argentina will be expecting to see quality ball having selected two runners in the wings: Juan Imhoff and Lucas González Amorosino have their attacking prowess as their calling card. Juan Martín Hernández has not been himself so far this season, and hopefully this is the game when he returns to his best.
The All Blacks will be missing captain Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter, two of the game’s finest ever. This will in no way mean an advantage of any kind to Argentina as one of the many strengths of this world champion side is their depth. By the time they take the field, they will be well aware of what happened in Cape Town in the game between the Springboks and Wallabies. The home side will need to get a try-scoring bonus point to be still in the hunt for the trophy. The All Blacks could secure first place and then travel to South Africa to decide whether they are champions alone.
The Pumas are not only playing against the best team in the world but against the lack of consistency referees have shown in their last four games. South African Jaco Peyper is one of the finest and there is hope that he will referee in a fair and consistent way. “That is all we ask,” said an insider in the Puma camp. Two big mistakes by Welshman Nigel Owens made a big difference in the Pumas’ last international, won by Australia by a single point.
The atmosphere will be electric, the opposition of the highest standard. Saturday can’t come quick enough.
Los Pumas: Marcos Ayerza, Eusebio Guiñazú and Juan Figallo; Julio Farías Cabello and Patricio Albacete; Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (captain), Pablo Matera; Juan Manuel Leguizamón; Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez; Juan Imhoff, Santiago Fernández, Marcelo Bosch and Lucas González Amorosino; Juan Martín Hernández.