El Magico ‘is going to get even better’

ARGENTINA’S director of rugby Les Cusworth is convinced the best is yet to come from Juan Martin Hernandez, the Pumas fly-half dubbed rugby’s Maradona.

Hernandez, 25, and teammate Felipe Contepomi, 30, are the first Argentina players to be nominated for the International Rugby Board’s player of the year award.

They have been key figures in the Pumas’ rise to an unprecedented fourth place in the world rankings and a first World Cup semi-final appearance. But Cusworth, the former England fly-half, insists this is only the beginning for Hernandez.

“I have known Felipe for a long time and his progress in the past few years has been incredible,” he said.

“With Hernandez what stands out is his abilities and his manner. He is turning into a great player and he’s going to get even better.

“Physically he’s a great player. You could say that he’s a bit like Stephen Larkham a few years ago, but you can’t really compare him with anyone.

“He’s like a mixture of several good players. He’s one of the best in the world.”

Hernandez is referred to as El Magico by Argentina coach Marcelo Loffreda.

And the Stade Francais president Max Guazzini refers to him as Maradona, not just because they both wore the number 10 jersey. Hernandez is striding the gap between the football and rugby classes in Argentina. His uncle, Patricio, was Maradona’s teammate at the 1982 World Cup.

By popular demand, the massive soccer derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate was brought forward by two hours to allow the fans to watch Argentina’s quarter-final victory over Scotland.

After years of battling for international recognition, Argentina have crashed down the doors of the establishment at this World Cup.

IRB chairman Dr Syd Millar stated that Argentina must be included in an expanded Tri-Nations.

Cusworth said: “We have to recognise that we have a special group here.”

Sunday’s semi-final showdown with South Africa promises to be a thunderous affair, but after three big victories there is no fear in the Argentina squad.

“We have never beaten them and we respect them a lot for their history. It’s going to be very physical.

“They have a lot of experience, very good set-pieces, good backs — but we do see some weaknesses in the team,” said Cusworth.

The Springboks are acutely aware what kind of a threat Argentina will pose on Sunday. Assistant coach Allister Coetzee said: “The Pumas have been playing really well. Hernandez has been named one of the nominations for the IRB player of the year and with their pack of forwards they can beat anyone on their day.”

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