Argentina XV start the new season with huge hopes and a refreshed squad, on the technical side as well as the player base.
Gone are holidays and the Christmas celebrations; now under the reign of Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, the first goal for the Los Pumas and Jaguares feeder team will be the Americas Rugby Championship that kicks off on 2 February.
Fernández Lobbe, a 65-cap Los Pumas second-row, between 1996 and 2008, steps up to the head coach role after being assistant to Hall of Fame inductee Felipe Contepomi, who has returned to Leinster in Ireland. The 44-year-old will continue working with backs coach Diego Ternavasio, while former international Julio García will look after the forwards.
Twenty of the 37-man squad that comes together on Monday 7 January are newcomers, with a handful of those selected having played for their country at U20 level.
For Fernández Lobbe, Argentina XV is an ideal platform for these players to showcase their ability in a competitive environment and prove to the coaches that they are capable of joining the likes of loose forward Rodrigo Bruni, fly-half Joaquín Díaz Bonilla and wing Bautista Delguy, who were all capped in 2018, in stepping up a level. Fellow Argentina XV graduates Franco Molina, Gaspar Baldunciel and fly-half Domingo Miotti are already working with Jaguares ahead of the start of the Super Rugby season.
“The idea is to solidify the team and create an identity and try to work with 35-40 players throughout the whole season, giving them sufficient opportunities to see if they have what it takes to be selected for higher honours," he said.
Back in Argentina after a brief stint in England with Leicester Tigers, scrum-half Felipe Ezcurra gets the opportunity to shine alongside former sevens rookie of the year, Matías Osacdzuk, who is now fully focused on 15s.
The Americas Rugby Championship was first played in 2016, in its current guise, and has quickly established as the premier tournament on the continent. Argentina XV were the inaugural winners, but they have since finished second to two-time champions, the USA Eagles.
The Argentina XV squad:
Props: Marco Ciccioli, Javier Corvalán, Lucas Favre, Martín Fernández Segurotti, Joaquín Lerche, Nicolás Solveyra, Jeremías Tarte
Hookers: José Luis González, Axel Zapata
Second-row: Ignacio Calas, Santiago Portillo, Carlos Repetto, Agustín Toh, Jerónimo Ureta, Nicolás Walker
Loose forwards: Lautaro Bavaro, Joaquín de la Vega, Francisco Gorrisen, Benito Ortíz de Rosas, Juan Manuel Pittinari, Lucas Santa Cruz, Nicolás Sbrocco
Scrum-halves: Gregorio del Prete, Felipe Ezcurra, Manuel Nogués
Fly-halves: Teo Castiglioni, Martín Elías, Martín Roger
Centres: Tomás Cubilla, Lucas Mensa, Agustín Segura
Wings: Pablo Avellaneda, Facundo Cordero, Facundo Cúcolo, Julián Domínguez, Matías Osacdzuk
Fullback: Pedro Soto
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