Lucio Cinti: Building a soild base

Wallabies win comfortably in Townsville against the Pumas

If anything, this 2021 Rugby Championship campaign for Los Pumas is giving coach Mario Ledesma an incredible opportunity to give Test opportunities to a range of up-and-coming players.

Even as results are not coming his team’s way – and the losses are hurting after a successful 2020 Rugby Championship – we might look back on this campaign in years to come as the one that saw a number of players donning the Los Pumas jersey for the first time. Players that will become key cogs in the future.

Read the full program for Round Six of TRC here

The building blocks are being put into place with the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023 in mind where Argentina will play against England, Japan, Samoa and the Americas 2 qualifier in Pool D.

After losing to France and England in Japan two years ago and missing the last eight the wounds from that tournament are yet to heal.

Losses in The Rugby Championship are hard but the bigger picture is learning that patience is crucial.

Amongst those who made their Test debut in 2021 are scrumhalf Gonzalo García, who earlier this year had played for Colombian franchise Cafeteros Pro in South America’s new professional league and made his debut as a sub against the All Blacks.

Add to that flanker Juan Martín González, with a try-scoring debut against Romania in July, winger Ignacio Mendy, who followed his father’s steps into the Test arena and No.8 Joaquín Oviedo who is only 20 and in July was playing for Argentina U20s.

Then there is exciting utility back Santiago Carreras, who although previously capped was tried at his preferred No.10 position and performed well, and star in the making centre Lucio Cinti.

None of them is a flash-in-the pan selection; they’ve all come through the Argentine Rugby Union production line that is now in its 12th year and will hopefully continue developing players despite the huge financial impact that COVID-19 and the death of Jaguares has had on Argentine rugby.

Take 21-year old Lucio Cinti, who made his starting debut in the second Test against the All Blacks, was retained for the first Test against the Wallabies in Townsville and is heading for a big career.

Starting in 2016, a scouting process for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, to be played in Buenos Aires, found González, Mendy, Cinti and speedster Marcos Moneta, also on tour with Los Pumas and yet to make his debut.

Over two years, they’ve all worked hard on individual skills, taking big steps towards understanding the game and developing in every sense.

“Players were desperate to work on game plans and tactics,” recalls Santiago Gómez Cora, one of sevens best-known players and now Pumas Sevens coach.

“We only focused on that a couple of months before the Games. We wanted to develop the players first and foremost.”

Gómez Cora, whose 207 tries were for a number of years the HSBC World Rugby Series try-scoring record, took Argentina to bronze in the recent Tokyo Olympics. Mendy, Moneta, Cinti and Santiago Mare, also on his first tour with Los Pumas, were key players.

“We lost more than half the team,” smiles Gómez Cora when talking about these players elevation to the full Pumas side.

“We know sevens is part of the development process for players; our job is to make better players that can take the next step.”

Sevens has been a proven pathway for Argentina, with many of its best players in the last couple of decades earning their sevens stripes before advancing to XVs.

The shortened version of the game was given priority in this Olympic year. Cinti had travelled to Australia last year and sat on the bench in the unforgettable first win against the All Blacks in Sydney, without taking the field.

After that trip, he went back to sevens. It proved to be the right choice as he played a key role, one tackle against the South African Blitzbokke, with his team down to five players, the difference between a medal and failure.

“We know that everybody’s dream is to play for Los Pumas; if during the players growth process he is given the opportunity, except in an Olympic year, he will be gladly released.”

Cinti’s growth was well tracked by the UAR from his early days. When he first came on to the radar, they analysed his body size and what kind of development it could take.

“Initially, he was one of many players in the mix,” said Gómez Cora, who led the process but had former Puma Lucas Borges as team coach.

“Then, the commitment and hunger of each player has to come from within. Cinti and Mendy live in La Plata, a city some 90 kilometres from the sevens training centre, needing to go through Buenos Aires and the horrific traffic of a city of 15 million. They both did the trip daily.”

Kiki Mendy and ‘Pulpo’ (Octopus, because of his long arms and hands) one day had a flat tyre. Neither knew how to change it.

“Picture them googling on their phones on how to change a tyre on the side of the road,” laughs Gómez Cora.

After winning gold in the Youth Olympics, Cinti made his sevens debut in Sydney Sevens 2019. By 2020 he was on Mario Ledesma’s radar. With the Games cancelled, he was ‘released’ for Los Pumas before recommitting to sevens this year ahead of Tokyo.

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A break was in the agenda for the sevens players, missing the trip to South Africa and only joining Los Pumas in Australia. The logistical challenges of flying them directly to Sydney meant that soon after arriving from the Games, they were again on a plane.

Cinti will rue the fact that Australia’s first try saw him miss a doable tackle on Reece Hodge. His mental strength, honed in sevens, saw him quickly move on. That same situation in the future will see him make that tackle.

“I’ve been in awe of how he gets better in every training session. He has a big frame (190cm, 90kg) and is still growing,” describes his sevens coach.

“He is a mature player, intuitive, that makes good decisions in contact, aggresive and knows how to search for spaces.”

His sevens background means that he has an uncanny feel for space and once he readapts to the larger format, he will be as comfortable with fourteen teammates as he was with six.

According to Gómez Cora, Cinti could use another year of developing his skills, of working on his game without the day-to-day pressure that could come with joining a club in Europe.

“He has a great presence, but his future is entirely in his hands. He has no ceiling on his career in rugby.”

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