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Wallabies lose their scrum doctor

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rugby.com.au     10 Jul 2012     Getty Images

The former Wallaby and Argentine international who played 49 Tests (25 for Argentina and 24 for Australia) is joining the Paris-based Racing Metro club.

Noriega will link at Racingwith the former France and Italy coach Pierre Berbizier, who is the Top 14 club’s Director of Coaching, as well as head coach and former Argentine international Gonzalo Quesada.

Quesada and Noriega are former team-mates from their days in Argentina.

“Pato has made a significant contribution to Australian Rugby, both as a player and more recently mentoring both the current and future generations of front-rowers,” Nucifora says.

“He leaves with our best wishes for what is an exciting career opportunity, as well as our thanks for all of the good work that he has done. The progress the Qantas Wallabies have made with the scrum in recent years is in no small measure due to the passion and dedication that Pato has brought to that part of his role. He has also done some wonderful work with the front-rowers in the National Academy and at age-group level as part of his wider brief as the Australian Rugby Union’s High Performance scrum coach.”

Noriega, who played one season in France for Racing Metro’s Parisian rivals Stade Francais in 2001-2002, debuted for Argentina in 1991.

After attending the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, he brought his family to Canberra in 1996 where he joined the Brumbies foundation side in the maiden Rugby Super 12 competition.

Selection for the Wallabies followed, once he had served the then mandatory three-year stand down period, with Noriega playing his first Test in 1998.

He was selected for the 1999 Rugby World Cup but was forced to withdraw with injury, then played a season in Paris after leaving the Brumbies, before finishing his career in Australia representing the NSW Waratahs in 2002 and 2003.

Unfortunately injury ended his career prematurely denying him selection for his third World Cup later in 2003 in Australia.

Noriega subsequently coached in his native Argentina before returning to Australia where he took on the role as the Australian Rugby Union’s High Performance scrum coach in July 2009.

During his tenure as part of the HPU, he also worked closely with the Wallabies, acting as the team’s scrum coach from the 2009 domestic Test series through until last year’s Spring Tour. His time included Australia’s first Tri Nations title for a decade - the first since he had featured for the Wallabies as a player.

Noriega also acted as a scrum consultant for the Wallabies through this year’s June Tests, assisting the new forwards coach, his former Wallabies team-mate Andrew Blades.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Wallabies. I’m proud of what we have achieved and leave with some great memories,” Noriega says.

‘It is tough to leave. I’m grateful to David [Nucifora], Robbie [Qantas Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans] and everyone in the High Performance Unit and Australian Rugby in general for the opportunity they have provided me, and the support and friendships that I’ve made.”

Noriega, whose two sons Pato and Steve will continue to play first grade for Randwick in the Shute Shield competition, says the opportunity to advance his career with Racing Metro was too good to ignore, and will offer him the chance to expand his coaching skills as a general forwards coach.

“I’ve learnt a lot working with one of the best coaches in the world in Robbie Deans,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to put everything that I have learned off him into practice.”

Deans says Noriega should be proud of his achievements.

“Pato inherited a scrum that was in transition with a lot of young front rowers coming through. It is a testament to his work how these players handled their entry into Test rugby, to the extent that they’ve provided a platform for both a Tri Nations title and increasing consistency as a scrum unit,” Deans says.

“I don’t think I’ve met a person more passionate about scrums! I have no doubt he will be a success in this next chapter of his life. I thank him for his efforts – both as a colleague and a friend, and wish him, his wife Laura, and the rest of the family well for the exciting time they have ahead of them in France.”