Pumas welcome their first JWC graduates
By Frankie Deges
From Buenos Aires
With only 11 days to go until the IRB Junior World Championship kicks off in the Litoral region of Argentina, the hosts have been given a boost with seven former Pumitas earning their first test caps in the recent South American Championship.
The 2010 Championship has a slogan "the future of world rugby is played in Argentina' and this is certainly true with more than 80 players graduating to the test arena after playing in the two previous Championships or its sister tournament, the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy.
Argentina can now boast their own graduates with seven Pumitas making their test debuts against either Uruguay or Chile in the space of three days last week, the matches won 38-0 and 48-9 in Santiago respectively.
Four of the debutants played in the inaugural IRB Junior World Championship in Wales back in 2008 - Belisario Agulla, Guillermo Roan, Nicolás Sanchez and Martín Landajo - while Tomás Cubelli, Rodrigo Báez and Luciano Proto played in Japan last year.
Six of them made their international debuts against Uruguay at the Centro de Alto Rendimiento de La Reina, in the shadow of the Andes, on 21 May with prop Roan, scrum half Landajo and wing Agulla named in the starting line up. Front row Proto, scrum half Cubelli and back Sanchez joined them off the bench.
Agulla was the only debutant to mark his first appearance for the Pumas with a try, touching down in the 53rd minute in the Chilean capital, nine minutes after his older brother Horacio, himself an Under 21 Pumita in 2005, had crossed for his first try as national captain.
Two days later, at the same venue, loose forward Báez got the nod in the starting XV for his debut, while Cubelli - injured in his first Junior World Championship match last year against Ireland - made his first start, following in the footsteps of his father Alejandro, who played for Argentina from 1978 to 1990.
Báez, just like Belisario Agulla, marked his debut with a try after 15 minutes, while Sanchez kicked a conversion before scoring Argentina's last try in a victory over Chile which saw them lift the silverware.
Proven pathway in South America
These seven take the number of players to have graduated from the two previous Junior World Championships in Wales and Japan and the Junior World Rugby Trophy events held in Chile and Kenya to the international test arena to an impressive 86.
Argentina could increase their representation in this list - which covers 21 different countries from New Zealand to Papua New Guinea, Namibia to South Africa and Georgia to England - with Juan Figallo and last year's Under 20 captain Santiago Guzmán named in the Pumas squad to face Scotland or France in June.
However, it was not only the Argentineans making the step up to the test arena at the South American Championship, which also featured Brazil and Paraguay. Chile and Uruguay have already capped a host of players from their Under 20 sides in the last two years.
In fact, the two traditional South American rivals account for 22 of these graduates alone, with Uruguay boasting the most of any country at 11 and Chile the next best with nine.
Felipe Brangier, Claudio Zamorano and Pablo Huete have become the latest graduates to the Chile national side, while Juan Pablo Ruffalini, Martín Sciarra, Gastón Mieres, Adrián Lewis, Eduardo Benítez and Santiago Gortari have all now been capped by Los Teros.