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Rugby superstardom beckons for Juan Martin Hernandez with the dashing Argentina back ready to bring his genius to a wider audience at the World Cup.

Followers of Stade Francais, the Heineken Cup and the Pumas know all about the outrageously talented 25-year-old, who has received acclaim as the world's finest threequarter.

There may be a few New Zealanders, Australians or Irishmen who have something to say about that, but Hernandez is undoubtedly a special talent. The World Cup will provide the perfect setting to prove his growing reputation and glowing press are justified and should not be confined to Europe.

Argentina's squad contains some outstanding players with Hernandez the pick, but the Buenos Aires-born Puma is careful not to get caught up in the hype.

"I don't want to pay much attention to what I read, see or hear. It's nice to know that people appreciate you but everything depends on the team," he said.

"Of course I hope everything goes very well for me but I always want to keep my feet on the ground.

"Having a team that is ready to explode at the tournament is what it's all about.

"Of course I'd like to influence the way we're playing but the success of the team comes first."

Tagged 'The Magician' by adoring Pumas fans, Hernandez has played most of his rugby at full-back where his speed, elusiveness and strength make him devastating when bursting into the line.

A strong defender - just ask Leicester's giant winger Alesana Tuilagi - who is safe under the high ball and possesses a prodigious boot, he is the complete package.

Yet despite his success in the number 15 jersey, Hernandez is desperate to switch to fly-half. Frustratingly, his path is blocked at club and country.

French duo David Skrela and Lionel Beauxis are ahead in the Stade pecking order while Felipe Contepomi and Federico Todeschini have been preferred in the position for Argentina.

Hernandez's restlessness could force him to leave Stade - negotiations over a move to Leicester appear to have been scuppered by demands for a 500,000 transfer fee - but at the World Cup the Pumas' needs come before his own.

"Fly-half is the position I like best and the position I want during the World Cup," he said. "To be fair, I haven't played that much at fly-half with the national team. On the odd occasion I have played there I've always felt very comfortable.

"I know that to master the position will take some time and it would be detrimental to the Pumas not to have their fly-half at the peak of their game.

"I do like playing full-back as well and when it comes to the World Cup and representing my country, I'll be happy to play anywhere."

Argentina will need Hernandez to be at his best if they are to qualify from the World Cup's 'Pool of Death', which includes hosts France and highly-fancied Ireland.

A solitary quarter-final in 1999 is the Pumas' best tournament to date but with their current crop of players they would not look out of place in the semis. Hernandez is confident they can reach the last four and pip France and Ireland to become Pool D winners, giving them a very-winnable quarter-final against Italy or Scotland in Paris.

"The World Cup will end at the final whistle of the last match. Hopefully that will be as late in the tournament as possible," he said.

"Every time someone asks me how far we can go in the competition, I always say the semi-finals.

"I'd rather stay in Paris for the quarter-finals but in order to do that we must win our group. I believe we can do that.

"Hunger will be key to our campaign - from the youngsters who want to break into the side to the older players who will be competing in their last World Cup.

"With so many of the team living and playing in France, we can benefit because we know how the French psyche operates.

"They have also learnt about us, but with our backs against the wall, the Pumas are always dangerous."

- PA SPORT