How a sliding doors moment at 24 changed the rugby life of Agustin Creevy
Lightning didn’t strike twice for Argentina in Australia on Saturday, the Pumas put to the sword by the All Blacks, but nothing can take away the memories of November 14 from Agustin Creevy. He initially had mixed emotions that Saturday, the London Irish hooker caught between the winning ecstasy of watching Argentina – the country he has 89 caps for – and the crushing disappointment of not being involved on that most seminal of days.
Fifteen times the 35-year-old had soldiered in the trenches versus New Zealand, 15 times he had brow wiped in all manner of defeats. The first was by 23 points in the 2011 Auckland World Cup quarter-final, the last by an agonising four points in Buenos Aires in last year’s Rugby Championship. Close by never any cigar.
In the end, though, that considerable length of Argentina service coaxed Creevy around to be at peace over events in Sydney after his new club adventure meant he opted not to be available for the tournament. “I was at home in London,” he told RugbyPass, recalling the Tri-Nations result that lit the imagination of the entire rugby world.
“Sometimes you can’t control it, your feelings, it’s really difficult. I was really happy with the victory. It’s the most important victory in history for us, we beat New Zealand for the first time.
“But on the other hand, I felt a little bit sad because I couldn’t be there. Too many years fighting for that moment. But then I was at home later and I said, ‘I did everything, I gave my life to get this moment, I am part of that’. I said, ‘I can’t be sad, I need to be happy’ and I’m happy now.
Tri Nations 2020 | New Zealand v Argentina – Rd 3 Highlights
A passionate Argentina outfit has orchestrated one of rugby’s biggest-ever boilovers, @lospumas beating the New Zealand @AllBlacks for the first time in their history.#TriNations2020 #NZLvARG pic.twitter.com/T2AxRbCmn8
— Super Rugby/Tri Nations (@SuperRugby) November 14, 2020
Creevy sure was content last Tuesday when he spoke, giddy with thoughts of the Argentina Tri-Nations campaign and how this Sunday might go with his own London Irish moving into their new home at Brentford with a Premiership match versus Leicester.
The age-old problem, though, with early-in-the-week interviews is the danger that they can be surpassed by subsequent events, Creevy’s chat with RugbyPass becoming a classic example. The following day the death occurred of Diego Maradona, the global sports icon who had risen from the slums of Argentina to conquer the football world.
D10S was a tremendously popular figure with Los Pumas, Creevy meeting him on numerous occasions, particularly during the Argentina run to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup in England. The beauty of all those iconic pictures from the rugby dressing room is that Creevy would never have been there but for an incredible twist of fate at the age of 24.
At that time he was earning a crust at Biarritz with a move lined up to London Irish when his world was turned upside down by a single phone call. Instead of joining the Exiles, a move that wound up delayed by eleven years, he hightailed it home to reinvent himself at amateur level and eventually become the Creevy everyone got to know and love as the inspired Argentina captain.
“Santiago Phelan called me and said if you want to still play for the Pumas you need to change your position, return to Argentina, play for your amateur club and if you are good you can still play for the Pumas. If not you’re gone,” he explained.
“That was the most important decision in my life. My whole family said no, you need to just stay playing at flanker. At that moment I was speaking with London Irish to go to play there as a flanker and I said no, I want to return to Argentina because the Pumas are my passion.
“I play rugby for the Pumas, to be like a Puma, and I started again in the second division in my amateur club. I had some really bad moments, the scrum and the lineout. I was 24 years old and I was old to change a position.
“I had to start again with a lot of frustration, with a lot of sadness, but it was my best decision in the world. I practised a hundred balls a day in my garden in Argentina with my brother helping me and now if Phelan called again and said you’re changing the position I’d say yes, 100 per cent.
Serás eterno Diego.. GRACIAS ???? pic.twitter.com/Rd5Dt40nEA
— Agustin Creevy (@agustincreevy) November 25, 2020
“It was really hard for me at the time but now I look at the whole picture and say yes, I can do it. This position changed my life, that decision changed my life. If I had stayed at a flanker and said no to the change I’d say my career would have been finished three or four years after.”
Creevy’s rejuvenation should be a lesson to youths rugby coaches the world over to stop pigeon-holing young players by giving them just one position at too young an age. Instead, let them experiment and see what they are actually best suited to.
“We need to try,” he said when asked if a more open-minded approach is needed, given his own belated successful positional switch. “Maybe in Argentina when you are young if you are fat you’re a prop, if you are tall you’re a second row, if you are fast you are a wing. That is not good.
“You need to try and play in the position that you want, that you are comfortable and try to understand the game. If you can play in all the positions when you are young it is really good for you because you know which position is your position and what you are happy with.”
Having made his first Pumas starter as a flanker in a December 2005 Buenos Aires defeat to Samoa, it wasn’t until eight years later in Perth against Australia that Creevy started again, his tuition at hooker accelerated in the meantime by playing back up for a number of years to Mario Ledesma, who went to coach Los Pumas to that All Blacks win a fortnight ago.
Along the way there were spells at Clermont, Montpellier and Worcester before the call of home in Argentina beckoned again, Creevy embarking on the adventure that was the four-and-a-bit-season roller coaster of the Super Rugby Jaguares. They reached the final in 2019 versus the Crusaders in Christchurch before falling into abeyance on the back of the pandemic lockdown earlier this year.
No one knows how they can properly be revived given they now have no one to play with after their South African, Australian and New Zealand rivals all focused internally to keep their club rugby going. And even if there is a lifeline somewhere, there would be enormous work to build Jaguares back up as so many of their players flew the coop for contracts elsewhere.
“The word is sad,” said Creevy, reflecting on how the Argentina club’s adventure unravelled, resulting in him joining the exodus and finally putting pen to London Irish paper eleven years after they previously sought his signature. “When the union called us to say that the Jaguares is gone, the Super Rugby is gone, we were worried about our future. I was 35 years old and at the moment, clubs don’t have money and weren’t signing players.
“I had to think about it and I said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to finish my career now’. I wanted to quickly find a club and London Irish called and said, ‘I want you’. That was really good for me but now I think about Jaguares a lot, about the good things that we did.
— Agustin Creevy (@agustincreevy) February 9, 2020
“We gave a lot to that project. Now it’s gone and I’m really sad about that, but it was really important that game against the All Blacks to say this project was very important for the union and was really important in beating the All Blacks too.”
Creevy is now one of the most Irish sounding names on the books of the multi-cultural Exiles club whose squad is made up of around a dozen different nationalities. He admits to an Emerald Isle connection. “My surname is Irish,” he said.
“I know that my great grandfather came to Argentina from Ireland to work on the trains but I don’t have family in Ireland. I don’t know if I have some family. I don’t have the passport, I have an Italian passport from my mum but my father never had the papers for my great grandfather to get the passport. I want to speak with some family in Ireland but I don’t know if they exist. It’s too many years, it was four generations ago.”
London life is suiting Creevy, even if there have been moments when he has lost his bearings. “When I was playing in Worcester I was living in Cheltenham and I came many times, many times to London, but never was I living here. It’s amazing. I now live in Kingston and it’s a beautiful place to live with shops.
“Not good for me the shopping, but for my wife. That is important. With the lockdown, I couldn’t go too much to central London but in a few weeks, I can go and explore because I love it… Thank God, GPS exists. This is important. I was living the last five years in Buenos Aires and it is a big city too, but here I have to drive on the other side of the road to Argentina and sometimes I’m a little bit lost as it is difficult to understand the streets.
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“To be honest, when Jaguares ended I had another opportunity in France and in England too but the most serious offer was London Irish and I said yes, I want to play in London Irish for this team, for the history of the team and because it is in London.
“London is a beautiful city for me and for my family and I have two friends who play in Harlequins, two friends from home. That is really good because I have company with them too.”
At Worcester all those years ago Creevy earned a reputation as a gaming shark but circumstances have changed upon his Premiership return from Argentina. “I’m old now, I’m old,” he protested. “I have a daughter and it’s impossible to play games but when I was young no-one, you can put it in the title if you want, no-one beat me in a PlayStation soccer game. I used to be Manchester United, City and Barcelona, of course. But not now, I’m retired.”
Twenty-five minutes Creevy conversed in slow, measured English, disguising the flak he gets at home for avoiding language lessons. “My wife is telling me off every day because I need to start the lessons. I say yes, next week, next week, next week and never start.
“I promise to start soon but thank you very much for saying that it is good. I’m going to speak with my wife now and you’re going to have a problem,” he quipped, adding there was some humour on the training ground when he initially arrived for the post-lockdown 2019/20 restart.
— Agustin Creevy (@agustincreevy) November 12, 2020
“There are some words I know now but when I arrived I didn’t know and I said something wrong and the people laughed at me but it’s alright, I can understand. When I arrived here I felt really happy because they are many international players who I have played against and they are really friendly.
“With Declan (Kidney) I have a good relationship and I feel really comfortable at the club. It’s a family club and we have a really good team to fight for the top. We are waiting for some injured players but we are going to have a good season.
“The Premiership is different from Super Rugby. It’s a little bit slow but more strategic. I love this kind of tournament because we have a lot of scrums, lineout, maul and it’s good for me. You don’t need to run too much and that is good too.
“Brentford is a really, really good stadium. I have played in the best stadiums in the world and this stadium is like an international stadium. The facilities are really good, the family room is amazing, the changing room is world-class and the field, you need to be there – it’s incredible.”
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