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How surprise Cowan exit opened Irish door for a 20-year-old rookie

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Getty Images)

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Declan Kidney has explained that the unexpected exit of the seasoned Blair Cowan paved the way for London Irish to this week recruit Juan Martin Gonzalez Samso, the rookie 20-year-old back-rower who forced his way into the Argentina team in the recent Rugby Championship campaign. It was August 13 when the Premiership club confirmed that they had sanctioned Cowan’s surprise request to end his contract early so that he could pursue a new challenge in Japan.


Cowan, the New Zealand-born ex-Scotland international, had been with Irish since 2013 and the sudden exit of the 35-year-old left Kidney with a large void that has taken the club eleven weeks to fill. There is no confirmed arrival date yet for Gonzalez Samso – if he doesn’t make the latest Argentina squad the expectation is he will soon be involved in some Premiership Cup action with Irish.

However, if he is chosen to tour Europe with the Pumas, with whom he played four times for in the Rugby Championship in Australia, it won’t be until after Argentina’s November 21 game with Ireland that the young forward will arrive at Hazelwood.

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Chris Robshaw guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Chris Robshaw guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

The question is why Kidney has opted to go for a relatively inexperienced newcomer to take over from Cowan, a dependable player 15 years older than the new arrival. “I’ll give you this because I don’t want to put it on the young lad but when Blair wasn’t going to be available through the season we went looking for the back rows that were available and it is a difficult time to recruit,” explained Kidney to RugbyPass.

“We found Samso and we just followed his progress over the last couple of months and we want him to come in and be him, not to be somebody else. That was always an opening that was created by Blair’s departure and what we need to do is learn the chemistry he is going to bring into the side.

“He can play six, he can play seven, he is a lineout option. There are different things that he is going to bring into it and I wouldn’t want to put a tag around his neck as to exactly what he will bring to it because it also goes to the mixture of the other back rows we would have with him. Ben Donnell picked up an injury then too last week, so it is timely we had the deal done with him before that injury happened. We were hoping to have both of them but we will be without Ben for a while now.”


With Agustin Creevy and Facundo Gigena already at London Irish, the Premiership club clearly has a soft spot for Argentine players but coach Kidney wasn’t making any fuss about where their recruits come from. “No, our nickname is Exiles, that is what we are and we have a broad range that we can look at.

We don’t specifically go looking for any one nationality. We want to see who the best players out there are that are available to us and the fact that he is younger, you don’t want to say you are building for the future, you are building to the next game, but his age is a good profile for us.”




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