Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Touch of Magic Returns for Argentina Team

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Touch of Magic Returns for Argentina Team

Article excerpt

Juan Martin Hernandez returns to the starting lineup for Argentina in time for a weekend clash with New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.

His coach has described him as the "conductor," but he is better known as "El Mago," or the magician, and Argentina will need Juan Martin Hernandez to use his full complement of tricks against New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday.

Hernandez has returned to the Pumas' starting lineup for Round 3 of the inaugural Rugby Championship after missing the match with South Africa in Mendoza, Argentina, two weeks ago, a 16-16 tie, because of a leg injury.

It has been a familiar tale for Hernandez, who missed three years of international rugby, including the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year, because of a series of injuries.

That absence, which stretched from 2009 until June, robbed the 30- year-old, who plays for the French club Racing Metro, of the chance to build on the stellar years he enjoyed around the 2007 Rugby World Cup, where he was widely regarded as the best fly-half at the tournament.

Hernandez, along with the inspirational Argentine captain, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, remains one of Argentina's genuine world- class players and will play a pivotal role in what will be the team's sternest challenge to date in the new four-nation tournament, which also includes Australia.

"He plays in a very important position for the team and he's a leader of the team," said Argentina coach Santiago Phelan. "He brings us security. He gives us knowledge. He is very intelligent.

"But the most important thing is that he makes good decisions and that's the most important thing in that position -- whether to play wide, play close together, kicking -- taking the best options in the best moments."

Hernandez, who has played in 33 test matches for Argentina, has great all-around skills. He can read a game well, is good under the high ball, is a strong defender and can pass the ball off either hand. He also has a superb kicking game, whether he is dropping goals or unleashing a raking spiral punt to the corners, a skill that has drawn comparisons with another legendary Argentina fly- half, Hugo Porta.

"He is just so accurate with his kicking," said New Zealand's Daniel Carter, who is rated the best No.10 in the world but who has been forced to withdraw from the match with a calf strain.

"If it's an up-and-under, it will be right on the money," Carter said. "There's obviously a huge territory game as well with a big boot, and he is very accurate putting it in the corners.

"Our back three are going to have to be right on top of their game this weekend having him there."

"He's been a bit unlucky with injuries over the last few years, so to have him back in the Argentine side is a real asset for them."

Argentina has made no secret that it needs to start playing a more expansive brand of rugby if it is to close the gap between itself and New Zealand and Australia. …

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