Matera hopes to end long year with huge win

Date published: November 24 2016

It feels as though barely any time has passed since Pablo Matera was last speaking to the media ahead of a match at Twickenham.

Except that in the seven weeks between Argentina's match with Australia and this weekend facing England, he and the rest of the Argentina squad have been home to South America before hitting the road again to Tokyo and then the United Kingdom, facing Wales and Scotland before their 13th and final Test of the year on Saturday.

2016 has been a groundbreaking year for rugby in Argentina, and for the core of players who featured in Super Rugby with the Jaguares an exhausting one too off the back of last year's Rugby World Cup.

Matera and the rest of Argentina's players will now get five weeks off before pre-season kicks into gear ahead of Super Rugby. Even for the game's top players that is a relentless schedule.

"I don't want to think about that now. It's not much!" Matera admits.

"It was a really long year for us. Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship, now the Test matches… but the only thing we are thinking about is finishing the year in the best way. That is really important for us.

"It has been tough. We must be one of the teams that travels the most over the course of the year. Doing that is exhausting, but it is what it is.

"We just have to think about recovering as quick as possible to play the next match."

Spotting a connection between underwhelming performances in their last two matches against Wales and Scotland and the extent of their travel schedule doesn't take a lot of work, even if Matera refuses to acknowledge that as the cause.

What has not diminished the belief he and his team hold that on their day los Pumas are capable of winning against any side. Although the reverse is also true.

"I don't know if it is because of the travel. We haven't been playing at our best level. Argentina are a team that can beat anybody in the world, but can also lose against anyone as well," he adds.

"The result comes down to us, our game and needing to be 100 per cent to beat the big teams like England. If we are not at 100 per cent, we can lose to any team.

"We have been watching the videos of our last games and we haven't been playing as well as we wanted. This week we have tried to focus on the things that we have forgotten to do in matches, the things we have worked on in training.

"Now we have had a great week, and will have a great game. Mainly how we attack. We haven't been using our structures well and have worked a lot on that."

Moreover, just because the year has been historic in terms of the country's involvement in Super Rugby for the first time does not mean it will go down as a success.

Argentina have missed win targets both this month and in the Rugby Championship. The Jaguares were not the instant play-off contenders many expected. With that growth have come growing pains.

"We wanted better results this year. There were certain objectives – winning two games in the Rugby Championship – and couldn't do that, winning only once against South Africa," Matera explains.

"We wanted to win three of the four November games too, and have only beaten Japan with England to go, so we will not achieve that either.

"Japan was maybe the easier opponent, and we knew if we lost that game that our objective to win three out of four was going to be really difficult. There was a lot of pressure on that game and it was good that we won. Since then we haven't been playing as well."

That all said, defeating England would end the year on a mighty high. The former Leicester back-row is as excited to take on former Tigers team-mates Dan Cole and Ben Youngs as he is about Argentina going up against one of the world's top sides. 

Matera will be back with the Jaguares in Super Rugby in 2017 but beyond next year he admits that a return to Europe down the line holds plenty of appeal.

More immediately however the focus is on getting a result at Twickenham that would mean more than most wins. England are top of Matera's hit list, and he and Argentina will now get a chance to end their hosts' unbeaten year.

"It is always good to play against guys that you know. I am really happy to see those guys again and to play against them," he said.

"I think if I could choose any side to play against right now it would be England. Eddie Jones has done amazing work with that team. They are on a brilliant run and therefore to beat them would be great for us.

"Defeating other teams on our level would be good, but not as good as beating one of the best teams in the world."

by Ben Coles