Saturday 6th July 2019. Night in Christchurch, New Zealand. Cold and a strong haze throughout the AMI Stadium. Crusaders had just been crowned for the tenth time in Super Rugby. Coach Scott Robertson was leading them to a three-time championship again. However, the looks and flashes just after the meeting were not with him. Not with Kieran Read, who played his last game with that shirt. Nor in Richie Mo’unga or Sam Whitelock, other superstars of the All Blacks.
After losing 19-3, in a match that was much closer to Jaguares than the result left, the organization chose Pablo Matera as a player in the final. Yes, an Argentine in the land of the best in the world and after being left empty-handed. And for him everything was disappointment and sadness. Absolute fight with a medal hanging on the chest. That individual achievement was not what he dreamed of. What he wanted and what his soul had left behind to close his cycle because he already had his future at Stade Francais. He had played a brilliant match to leave no doubt that he was a top-class and with a display of character and personality that was going to leave his mark.
So much so that almost two years from that day, Crusaders hires him as a figure for Super Rugby 2022. And so, between roosters and midnight in Argentina, Matera made history again for Argentine rugby and will become the second player to play that tournament for a New Zealand team, the first in the most important team of the tournament.
Matera was born on July 18, 1993. He is 27 years old but on his resume he already has a historic fourth place with Los Pumitas in the 2012 World Youth Cup in South Africa, the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, played at Leicester, Stade Francais and it was one of the banners of Jaguars since joining Super Rugby and especially in the 2019 runner-up.
Already in the youth Alumni it showed all that it could be. With exceptional speed for a wing and uncommon power for his age. That is why it quickly reached the radar of the selected ones and from there it did not leave anymore. Along with Santiago Cordero and Facundo Isa, among others, they shone at the World Cup in South Africa 2012. And a year later, At just 20 years old, he made his debut in Los Pumas. Coach Santiago Phelan sent him to the starting court in Johannesburg at the start of the second Rugby Championship.
Since that day they have passed 69 tests, of which 64 were as a starter. In 14 he was captain. And its culminating point was also with New Zealand as the protagonist. Because in the 2020 Rugby Championship, in Parramata (Australia), with him as a standard The Pumas defeated the All Blacks for the first time. Without adequate preparation for the pandemic that hit the world, bringing together the players who were in Argentina with those from Europe for just a few days, they defeated the men in black 25-15 in a brilliant match. That team led by him on and off the pitch delivered the most surprising blows in the history of world sport and not just rugby. And he, again, was the figure.
That November 14, everyone talked about him. For his dialogue with the referee who toured the entire planet for his phrase “I play for my country” looking at the jaguar on his shirt after receiving the challenge for having gotten into an argument after some shoving between players. “I can’t not see that he hit one of my team, that’s not respect,” he said, and that gesture remained on everyone’s retina. And then, when the game ended and everything was euphoria, he gave that historic shirt to an Argentine boy -from his Alumni club and now living in Australia- to excite locals and strangers.
But a few weeks later he went from heaven to hell for the failed tribute of Los Pumas to Diego Maradona after his death prior to the second test with the All Blacks and the racist tweets in his youth. He was in the eye of the storm perhaps in the best moment of his career.
Now, just a few months later and In the tranquility of Paris, he agreed to his arrival to the emblem team of the rugby world. A flight to the stratosphere. A real bomb for a sport that in Argentina has not yet recovered from what the dismemberment of Jaguares meant and their exclusion from Super Rugby and the difficulties for the clubs due to the pandemic. A piece of news that undoubtedly brings a smile to all rugby lovers.