Rugby: Young prop to roar for Pumas

By Adrian Seconi

Juan Figallo. Photo / AP
Juan Figallo. Photo / AP

Argentina v England
Dunedin, 8.30pm Saturday

Juan Figallo does not mind a bit of argy-bargy. He is a prop after all.

But the burly 23-year-old Argentinian cut a far from fearsome-looking figure yesterday, brandishing a broad smile and bursting with pride as he was.

It was one of the best days in his life. Figallo made his debut for Argentina against France last year. But to be named in the starting side for the Pumas' crucial pool B game against England at Otago Stadium on Saturday night was a tremendous feeling.

"It is really emotional - these things," Figallo beamed.

"When he called my name, it made me really happy."

The moment was also bittersweet. Figallo got the nod over the vastly experienced Martin Scelzo, a veteran of more than 50 tests. Scelzo is in his fourth World Cup and has been a valued mentor to Figallo.

"Martin Scelzo is one of the players I look up to. I saw him in the World Cup in 2007 and he was a really, really good player. I learn a lot from him every training."

Figallo also owes his father a debt of gratitude. As a youngster, the 1.88m tighthead preferred basketball.

"I say to my father I want to play basketball and he say, 'Okay, but you have to play always rugby'."

England is expected to name its side tomorrow but Andrew Sheridan shapes as Figallo's most likely opponent.

Sheridan is a massive man at 1.90m and 123kg, and the 32-year-old is considered one of the best loosehead props in the world - particularly at home in England.

Figallo is relatively inexperienced with just four tests under his belt.

But he is also highly rated, so it should be a fascinating battle.

There is a lot at stake in the game with the winner avoiding a possible quarter-final clash with the All Blacks.

Pumas coach Santiago Phelan has made just one change from the side which lost 28-13 to Wales in Cardiff last month. Experienced centre Gonzalo Tiesi replaces Marcelo Bosch.

Veteran hooker Mario Ledesma will enter the record books as the oldest Argentine to take the field at a Rugby World Cup. He will be 38 years and 116 days on game day.

Ledesma and talented inside back Felipe Contepomi will join Pedro Sporleder and Agustin Pichot as the only Argentine players to appear at four World Cups.

ARGENTINA v ENGLAND

Argentina

15 - Martin Rodridguez
14 - Gonzalo Camacho
13 - Gonzalo Tiesi
12 - S. Fernandez
11 - Horacio Agulla
10 - F. Contepomi (c)
9 - Nicolas Vergallo
8 - J. M. F. Lobbe
7 - J. M. Leguizamon
6 - Julio F. Cabello
5 - Patricio Albacete
4 - Manuel Carizza
3 - Juan Figallo
2 - Mario Ledesma
1 - Rodrigo Roncero

Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Martin Scelzo, Mariano Galarza, Alejandro Campos, Alfredo Lalanne, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Jose Imhoff.

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES

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