Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga was an amateur fullback playing for Atlético del Rosario and Pumas Sevens Rugby when he was called into the Argentine squad for the November 2009 tour of Britain. His call-up was intended to serve as cover for a severely understrength midfield short an injured trio of experienced Pumas in Marcelo Bosch, Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martín Hernández.
Despite rarely having worn the No12 jersey during his career, a lack of centres in the squad saw him pushed into the role and he took to midfield like a duck to water. He debuted against England in the first game of that tour in a packed Twickenham, kicking all of his side’s points – three first half penalties – in a 16-9 loss; some readers might remember that game from Ugo Monye having an absolute horror at fullback for Les Rosbifs.
Rodríguez Gurruchaga’s next outing against Wales again saw him taking charge of Puma scoring duties, once more putting all their points on the board: a converted try and three penalties for their end of a 33-16 loss in the Millenium Stadium. It was the last game of the tour that really saw him write his name in the history books, though: playing against Scotland, he bagged a drop goal three minutes from the end of the game to break the deadlock and give the Pumas a 9-6 win in Murrayfield. Once again, he had scored all his side’s points – two penalties and a drop goal. In fact, the 24 year old amateur, playing out of position, had scored all his country’s points on tour … in his first three games at international level!
Between February and May 2010, his performances at fullback with the Pampas XV, an Argentine invitational team that partakes in the Vodacom Cup – a third tier tournament below Super Rugby and the Currie Cup in South African rugby that features the likes of Griquas and Boland Cavaliers – saw him catch the eye of Stade Francais, and he signed terms with the Paris club that saw him become the latest in a line of Puma fullbacks at Le Stade Charlety. He thus follows RWC07 heroes Juan Martín Hernandez and Ignacio Corleto, and has assuredly taken over where they left off, putting in over 1300 minutes of gametime to seal his place as first choice No15.
Highlighting the paucity of international rugby with which the Pumas are involved, a situation that will thankfully be remedied next season with their introduction to the SANZAR tournament formerly known as the Tri-Nations, his next test match came against a touring Scottish side at home in Argentina in June 2010. He was selected at his favoured position of fullback, and he has since played every match for the Pumas in the No15 jersey, including another November tour of the northern hemisphere.
His performances in his debut international season saw him being awarded the Olimpia del Plata for rugby, an Argentine sports awards system that acknowledges outstanding achievement by one player per sport. He was named the Argentine Rugby Player of the Year, holding off Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, amongst others.
Rodríguez Gurruchaga is one of those Pumas backs that easily makes the step up to international rugby; he’s very much in the mould of his predecessors Hernandez and Corleto. He has a strong Sevens pedigree http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5VMHO8fVkM&feature=related and is one of those natural, languid footballers that the country is capable of turning out to complement their grizzled front-rowers … check out the last-minute, long-range drops goals against Leeds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39UoKRJsdzs&feature=related and Harlequins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tnZn2krdbU in the ERC Challenge Cup!
He’s also got the typically Argentine steak-fed strength in contact that is so evident in the likes of Felipe Contepomi and Horacio Agulla, players who are by no means giants but who more than hold their own in contact. He’s one to watch at RWC11.