The Rugby Championship is just ten days away. Los Pumas have a number of positional doubts ahead of their first match against South Africa.
1 – Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Playing out of position will be Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Naturally a Tight head prop, he has proved to be highly effective at Loose Head in the post Marcos Ayerza’s era. This will see Lucas Noguera Paz used as his understudy with Santiago García Botta acting as third choice.
2 – Agustín Creevy
Leading the team from hooker will be Agustín Creevy. He has been among Argentina’s best players since gaining the leadership role in 2014. Accurate at lineouts and outstanding at the set-piece in general. Also a great ball-carrier, tackler and exponent of the off-load and turn-over.
5 – Tomás Lavanini
The 24-year-old has all the attributes of a world class second-rower. He is arguably Argentina’s finest lock since Patricio Albacete and is among the leading Pumas today. He will wear the number 5 shirt in Port Elizabeth.
6 – Pablo Matera
The starting flanker in the 6 shirt will be Pablo Matera. The hard-running ball-carrier is a vital component of the Pumas attacking play. In also being an excellent defender his place in the side is not in question. This is further exemplified by the non-avaliability of Facundo Isa. With the latter missing extra importance is placed on Matera’s contribution from the side of the scrum.
10 – Nicolás Sánchez
As has been the case throughout the Daniel Hourcade era, the starting fly half will be Nicolás Sánchez. In Super Rugby Santiago González Iglesias, Juan Martín Hernández and Joaquín Díaz Bonilla all got starts at fly half. All of them, though, are considered as being replacement options rather than starting alternatives to Sánchez.
11 – Emiliano Boffelli
Having debuted against England in June, Emiliano Boffelli demonstrated his class. His ability to follow play to be in the action areas was highly impressive. This is also true on defense with a strong understanding of reading player and aerial skills. He will start ahead of the more established Manuel Montero, Matías Moroni and Ramiro Moyano.
12 – Jerónimo de la Fuente
As a tactic Los Pumas are kicking the ball less, this includes from deep within their own 22. It means there is less of a need for a kicking option at inside center. Argentina are instead looking to play more with ball in hand, creating match-ups which lead to opportunities. de la Fuente fills the role superbly and is in his prime as an athlete.
13 – Matías Orlando
Playing outside de la Fuente will be Matías Orlando. While some argue heavily that Marcelo Bosch remains Argentina’s best 13 the debate is open. Orlando impressed in Super Rugby and performed above expectations for Los Pumas in 2016. It is Orlando’s defensive game which will see him preferred to Matías Moroni for the Rugby Championship opener.
14 – Santiago Cordero
Santiago Cordero was managed through the Super Rugby campaign, playing sporadically and missing the June internationals. As such the likes of Moyano, Moroni and Bautista Ezcurra received regular game time out wide. Cordero’s counter attacking places him among the very best Argentina has to offer. His three tries in away matches in last year’s competition were all very different with Cordero acting as a finisher and delivering.
15 – Joaquín Tuculet
In 2017 Joaquín Tuculet is expected to join the 50-cap Pumas club. Prior to Daniel Hourcade, Tuculet had 5 caps. Now he has 43, with all but one being starts under Hourcade. This will continue in 2017 and he is a strong shot at adding to his 14 tries. Tuculet has tries vs all Rugby Championship opposition and scored each of the past three test matches. He is a certainty for Argentina at the back.
16 – Julián Montoya
While Agustín Creevy’s spot is not under threat Argentina are certainly very well served by Julián Montoya being his replacement. The Newman product is a terrific understudy to Creevy, providing tremendous impact from the bench.
17 – Lucas Noguera Paz
Still just 23 years of age, Lucas Noguera Paz already has 34 test caps. He is Argentina’s top specialist Loose Head prop. Due to the immediate needs of the team, though, he will feature from the bench with Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro starting.
22 – Juan Martín Hernández
Juan Martín Hernández was used from the bench in both June Internationals against England. His place in the team for the Rugby Championship is highly likely to be in the same position. While some feel this is a reflection of him now being aged 35, the style of play Argentina are seeking cannot be overlooked. In addition having the option of injecting a player of his caliber in the second half is potentially a Trump card for Daniel Hourcade.
3 – Ramiro Herrera or Enrique Pieretto
Either Ramiro Herrera or Enrique Pieretto will start. The difference in choice comes down to the scrum. Herrera has vastly more caps and experience in general. He is considered among the best as a ball-carrying prop and also in the clean-out area. Pieretto, though, is the superior scrummager. This was abundantly clear against Wales last November and against both England and Georgia in June.
4 – Matías Alemanno or Guido Petti
The jury is out as to whether it will be Matías Alemanno or Guido Petti locking the scrum with Lavanini. For a mobile option Petti would be preferred while Alemanno would get the nod if Argentina seek more grunt. Both are very much accomplished players and have come a long way since being thrust into the side aged 22 and 18 respectively.
7 – Javier Ortega Desio or Tomás Lezana
Tomás Lezana, Javier Desio Ortega and Rodrigo Báez are the options for 7. They are different players in terms of style and also both age and experience. Of the three the former two are favored options. Desio Ortega will no longer play out of position at lock. Lezana impressed in Super Rugby this year, particularly against South African sides. This may see him edge out Desio Ortega to start.
8 – Juan Manuel Leguizamón or Leonardo Senatore
Both players are in the twilight of their careers but are the top two options based on the status of Facundo Isa. Juan Manuel Leguizamón is ten caps shy of Felipe Contepomi’s Pumas record of 87 test caps. Despite sharing the position the style of play that both bring is vastly different. Leguizamón is more of a work-horse while Senatore plays with greater mobility.
9 – Martín Landajo or Tomás Cubelli
Daniel Hourcade recently listed Martín Landajo, Tomás Cubelli and Gonzalo Bertranou as all contenders for the scrum-half starting position. Realistically Bertranou is third in line. Landajo is the favorite to start however Hourcade’s history of rotating between him and Cubelli is highly likely to continue in 2017.
Either Herrera or Pieretto
Either Alemanno or Petti.
Ortega Desio, Lezana, Leguizamón and Senatore are the four contenders. Two will start with a third on the bench and one missing out.
Either Landajo or Cubelli.
23 – Ramiro Moyano, Manuel Montero, or Matías Moroni
Will it be a utility option or a specialist winger? Moyano is the former and Montero the latter. Both Cordero and Boffelli are accomplished fullbacks which suggests Montero need not be disadvantaged. At the same time Moyano’s attacking was outstanding against Georgia in June. He also impressed in Super Rugby. Matías Moroni is primarily a center but can play wing. On the flip side Boffelli is considered a longterm option at 13.