December 10, 2013
It is not an easy tour
November has been, for many years now, synonymous with international rugby, as much as the month of June is. These “test windows” allow Northern Hemisphere nations to host Southern Hemisphere teams; the trip is the other way round in June.
November normally has the best players available, despite untimely injuries. Southern Hemisphere sides always take their best team on tour; this has not always been the case with European sides. On Sunday, Los Pumas began a new European tour; this time under new coach Daniel Hourcade. He has the best available players.
It is not an easy tour: this Saturday they tackle an England team that opened the European window with a good 20-13 win against Australia. Soon after, they’ll drive West on the M4 to Cardiff where Wales, from where the core of the successful British & Irish Lions came, will be waiting. The tour close will be in Rome, where a few hours after meeting with Pope Francis, in the Vatican, they will tackle a tough Italy at the mythic Stadio Olímpico.
Hourcade’s squad includes most of the Rugby Championship squad. Not included are prop Juan Figallo — his future is uncertain as he again injured his neck —, Felipe Contepomi who retired from the Pumas in October and hooker Agustín Creevy who was injured on Saturday. Also absent will be injured captain Juan Fernández Lobbe.
These are hard times; the recent resignation of the coaching staff led by Santiago Phelan is now augmented by the unavailability of the team’s natural leader. Leadership in rugby, and the captaincy, have a huge weight and that honour is not bestowed lightly.
This squad is not brimming with captaincy candidates; with the need to find a replacement for the captain — who nonetheless visited the team in London on Sunday — Hourcade nominated veteran flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamón for the job.
“Legui” first played for Los Pumas in 2005 but has been representing national teams since 2001. His long career made him one of the natural candidates for the captaincy. Who in the end wasn’t given the honour to lead his country was lock Patricio Albacete; his career also exemplary.
It will be Leguizamón then who walks out first onto the hallowed green of Twickenham, rugby’s best-known cathedral. How soon will Hourcade’s hand be seen on the way the team plays is hard to say, there are some young players ready to take the next step, but he most probably will use the experience of those who have been there before.
Despite this, the tour will hopefully bring opportunities for young players such as fullback Santiago Cordero, lock Tomás Lavanini, hooker Santiago Iglesias or centre Javier Rojas the first three with Pablo Matera who had an outstanding Rugby Championship played in June this year for Argentina U20. They are in line to play an integral part in RWC 2015.
With a new coach, temporary captain and three hard tests ahead, a new European sojourn starts. Hopefully one that will allow these Pumas to get back on the right track.