Major teams: Northampton, Narbonne, Clermont, Agen
Test span: 1996-2011
Argentina caps: 59 (33 starts)
Test points: 50 (10T)
Playing at tighthead prop is rarely, if ever, a case of rocking up to a big stage for the first time, packing down and blowing everyone away. More often, playing at No 3 means honing your craft and taking your beatings over time until you’re the most resourceful and resilient scrummager.
It’s with that spirit of endeavour that Martin Scelzo rose to international renown. A Test player in 1996, any glamour in those early years of professionalism passed him by as he continued to graft at the famous, amateur Hindu club.
It wasn’t until after the 1999 World Cup that the tighthead was lured from his homeland, playing a part in Northampton’s only Heineken Cup victory in 2000. He was continuing to learn.
Scelzo had a number of team-mates to contend with during his time. Omar Hasan, Mauricio Reggiardo and later Juan Figallo all vied with Scelzo to be a starter. But the Pumas tighthead is not an easy role. So much onus is placed on the scrummage, and so much passion flows through the pack, that the exhaustion can go bone-deep. Scelzo kept picking himself up.
By the time the 2007 World Cup rolled around, Scelzo was 31 and had learned things the hard way. Domestically he had played a major role in changing the identity of his club Clermont – to this day coach Vern Cotter calls him “a legend” for the work he did. Internationally, he was one third of a terrifying front three, alongside Rodrigo Roncero and Mario Ledesma.
Sometimes people find their place and time in the world. For Scelzo it was that 2007 World Cup in France. He was magnificent in the set-piece and unforgiving in the loose.
After dominating for a few more years he would play in a fourth World Cup, but would never reach the same standard. For a brief window he was a true world master.