Argentina: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering Rugby Championship
Argentina go into their third Rugby Championship with 2015 on their minds.
Coach Daniel Hourcade has picked a squad with a blend of youth and experience, with several players plying their trade in their homeland.
There is no Patricio Albacete after an alleged rift with Hourcade, but can the Pumas really do without such experience as they go in search of their first win in the competition?
What we do know is that there are several players with points to prove, with a job to show that domestic rugby can prepare them for this level of competition. There are a handful of names with proven world-class ability, and those players earn the best grades as we measure them up against the best in the tournament.
The lesser-known players score lower, as we cannot judge them until they have been seen against the quality of rugby to which they are about to be exposed.
Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino: B-
The former Leicester man is now plying his trade at French minnows Oyonnax. Amorosino is one of the longest-serving players in the Pumas squad with 33 caps, which have been won at both wing and full-back.
A dangerous finisher and solid defender, he lacks the top-line speed of the flyers from the big three nations but has the experience at this level not to be overawed by the task. There is every chance he could play on the wing rather than at full-back.
Juan Martin Hernandez: A-
The magic has faded from the man known as The Magician, but the huge boot remains. Hernandez is still safe as houses under the high ball and still able to sniff danger and snuff it out. It is in attack that we see so much less of this great player, which makes us all pine for those heady days of 2007 when he ripped through the Rugby World Cup like a South American tornado.
The adjective "world-class" cannot be applied to many of this current Pumas crop, but it belongs to Hernandez, or at least his younger self.
Horacio Agulla: B-
Bath fans will have to tune in to their TV sets if they want to catch their man in action at the start of this season. The Rugby Championship runs until early October, which means the Rec faithful will be deprived of their wide man until then.
His 51 caps are testament to his quality, but he is another who lacks that final five per cent of quality to measure up to the likes of Bryan Habana, Julian Savea et al.
Manuel Montero: C
Montero stands at the opposite end of the physical scale to his fellow Argentine wings. He is a hulking specimen at 6'4" and is still only 22 years old. His 12 tries in 13 Tests appears to be a phenomenal strike rate until further investigation reveals seven of those came against Uruguay and Brazil, but he has also crossed against France, England and Ireland.
Here is a man with all the raw materials to become a great, but he is yet to be exposed to the standards of the Rugby Championship. He could even have a future in the No. 13 shirt as he develops. A strong showing in this tournament will surely convince someone in Europe to make the young man an offer. One to watch.
Juan Imhoff: N/A
He can play centre or wing, but wing is where Imhoff has featured throughout his Pumas career to date. The Racing Metro man fractured a metatarsal in his foot in the Pumas’ warm-up game against Grenoble and misses the first two games, per Planet Rugby’s report, but he could be back depending on his recovery time.
Losing a man with Heineken Cup pedigree and 12 tries in his 20 Tests is a blow for Hourcade’s team.
Marcelo Bosch: B+
Bosch became a key man for Saracens last season with his robust style and enormous boot. The ability to nail penalties from his own half could come in handy in the Pumas’ first game against South Africa in Pretoria, where the altitude is a friend to the long-range merchants.
Bosch is another standard-bearer for the world-class clutch of names in this squad and has responsibility to show his quality when he comes up against the likes of Conrad Smith and Tevita Kuridrani.
Joaquin Tuculet: B-
Tuculet is another of these Pumas backs capable of playing in more than one spot. ESPNScrum describe the former Sale Sharks man as a centre, but he is regarded by Rugby World Cup Argentina 2023 as a rival to Hernandez for the No. 15 jersey, who:
The former Sale Sharks, Grenoble and Bordeaux-Begles outside back is now back in Argentina full time and is providing Juan Martín Hernández with serious competition for the fullback position. Prior to joining the Sale Sharks Tuculet was Hourcade's leading fullback option for the Pampas XV and now that he is off contract and at the complete disposal of el huevo he is being given the opportunity to shine. Aged 24 Tuculet started both home tests against Ireland this month and was praised by the media for his performances.
Jeronimo de la Fuente: C-
De la Fuente replaces Imhoff in the squad and brings a fair amount of bulk with him at 6 feet and 205 pounds. But he is raw at this level, with just two starts against a Tier 1 nation, both in Ireland’s tour over the summer.
Nicolas Sanchez: B-
Since getting a taste of World Cup action in 2011, Sanchez has become the first-choice No. 10 for Argentina. He has the quick feet and game management to get the back line moving, but the chance to do so in this tournament will depend on how many good balls his forwards can secure for him.
He should continue to improve with further exposure to Tier 1 quality.
Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias: D
Iglesias’ seven caps indicate a career in its fledgling stages despite being the older man of the two No. 10s in the group.
Like many in this 26-man party, playing in Argentina’s domestic competition may leave him short of a genuine knowledge of what the game is like at the higher levels.
Martin Landajo: B-
The 31-cap man from Buenos Aires started both tests against Ireland in the summer and is the likely first choice on that evidence. He has two seasons of Rugby Championship experience behind him and will be essential in driving his forwards on.
Tomas Cubelli: C
Cubelli has only started in 10 of his 25 appearances so far. The Belgrano man featured five times in last year’s Rugby Championship and thus has had at least a taste of the quality his team is up against.
Juan Manuel Leguizamon: A-
Leguizamon has the experience and pedigree to carry the fight to the big guns of the Southern Hemisphere. The former London Irish man brings dynamism and pace from the back of the scrum and loves nothing more than galloping into the open spaces.
He has the quality to stand up to the likes of Kieran Read, Wycliff Palu and Duane Vermeulen.
Juan Fernandez Lobbe: A+
One of the finest back-row players on the planet can play No. 8 or on the flank. His last seven caps have been on the side of the scrum, so we should perhaps expect to find him there to allow Hourcade the ability to field both Lobbe and Leguizamon as two of his most experienced and best players.
Lobbe has proven his class time and again both for club and country. He can pilfer balls, tackle all day, claim aerial bombs and is a leader of men. He doesn’t need the captaincy for the rest of the side to draw inspiration from him. A modern-day great.
Pablo Matera: A-
Matera recently signed a new deal to stay at Leicester Tigers despite director of rugby Richard Cockerill’s understandable frustration that the rugby Championship precludes the youngster from completing a pre-season with the club, per the Leicester Mercury.
Matera is highly regarded as a potential world star in the No. 7 jersey. When he joined the Midlands outfit last year, Cockerill told The Telegraph’s Andrew Ellison: “He’s one of the best young players in the world – he’s played Test matches this year in very high company and done it very well. He’s got all the raw ability you look for in a young player.”
Rodrigo Baez: C-
This is Baez’s first Rugby Championship, having featured in all three summer Tests against Ireland and Scotland. The Argentina Jaguares man is untested at the very best level, so it could be time to find out if he is capable of joining the pantheon of back-row legends to have worn the famous hoops.
Leonardo Senatore: C
Senatore comes with something of a bad-boy reputation. He was slapped with a nine-week ban in 2013 for biting that other wallflower of the second row, Eben Etzebeth, in last year’s competition.
He can play flanker or No. 8 but will need to keep his temper in check if he is to be of use to the Pumas.
Matias Alemanno: D
Five caps thus far mark Alemanno down as one for the future at just 22 years old. The U20 graduate would appear set for a backup role behind the two more experienced men in the party.
Mariano Galarza: B+
As well as a towering 6'8" frame, Galarza brings Premiership nous to the Pumas pack. The Gloucester second row joined the Cherry and Whites for the coming season and was described to BBC Sport by former director of rugby at Kingsholm Nigel Davies as “A very shrewd operator. ... He's a bright man and understands the line-out.”
He will need all of that intelligence to ensure the set piece delivers enough balls for the Pumas to threaten the defences they will face.
Tomas Lavanini: C
Lavanini is not much more experienced than Alemanno with 10 caps, but at the tender age of 21 he is another with bags of potential.
Housed in a scrum with the likes of Leguizamon, Lobbe, Galarza and Marcos Ayerza, he is in the right place to learn fast, and facing up to young thrusters like Brodie Retallick and Will Skelton will provide a solid benchmark.
Agustin Creevy: B-
Creevy has been made skipper by Hourcade. The Worcester Warriors man brings quality European experience with him after a spell with Montpellier before his move to England.
Hooker is a vaunted position in Argentina, since the No. 2 jersey has been worn with distinction by the likes of Federico Mendez and Mario Ledesma. Creevy has a lot to live up to and can make a start by confronting Bismarck du Plessis head-on in Week 1.
Matias Cortese: B-
With Gloucester, Northampton, Bayonne and Biarritz on his CV, Cortese has proven he can mix it at the top in domestic European rugby. But his career collided with that of Ledesma, hence his lack of international game time.
With that experience behind him, though, Cortese will be a valuable asset to this squad during what is sure to be an attritional few weeks.
Marcos Ayerza: A
Leicester Stalwart Ayerza is approaching 50 caps for his country and remains one of the best props they have ever produced. He had his best run in the national side with eight appearances last year but was then jettisoned for the summer Tests as rumours swirled of unrest in the Pumas setup.
The Leicester Mercury reported:
With other big-name stars like Patricio Albacete and Gonzalo Tiesi also having been left out of new head coach Daniel Hourcade's plans, it led to suggestions of unrest in the Argentine camp, which Ayerza has been caught up in.
That unrest is said to go right to the top of the game, with the UAR (Argentine Rugby Union) heavily involved in team selection according to some observers.
But the Tigers man is back in the fold for the Championship, and it would be unwise in the extreme to leave a man of his experience cooling his heels on the bench.
Ramiro Herrera: B+
Herrera’s star is on the rise after securing a permanent deal to play for top-14 big guns Castres, per Rugby World Cup Argentina 2023. He is quite some specimen at 6'3" and 275 pounds and made his debut in the summer series against Ireland.
This coming tournament could give us a clear indication if he is the real deal and the next in a long line of world-class Pumas propping talent.
Lucas Noguera Paz: D
The 21-year-old made his bow this year for the national side and should play a supporting role in this tournament while he continues to learn his trade.
Nuhuel Tetaz Chaparro: C
Another tall prop at 6'4", Chaparro will need to use all his size and power to put the Pumas on the front foot. Having featured off the bench in Argentina’s last two Tests, his physical attributes may well lend him to the role of impact sub in this competition.
Bruno Postiglioni: C
The 27-year-old can play prop or hooker but has been exclusively used as a prop in his last seven appearances. With game time against France, Italy, Ireland and Scotland, he has some experience against strong opposition, but the step into the Rugby Championship is a new one for the Jaguares man.