'Our game with England in the World Cup will be like a final for us'
Mateo Carreras is a constant reminder of the clear and present danger waiting for England at the Rugby World Cup and the recent 30-29 Twickenham loss to pool opponents Argentina helped oust Eddie Jones from his role as head coach.
That defeat during a disappointing Autumn international series for England triggered a regime change with Steve Borthwick taking over as head coach and the former Leicester chief will be acutely aware of the power and pace Argentina will bring to the World Cup in France, led by Tigers hooker Julian Montoya and Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli who scored 25 points at Twickenham.
While the Pumas have a deserved reputation for producing outstanding forwards, it is their back line that has emerged as a world-class threat with the introduction of ‘pocket rocket’ Carreras giving them a player who offers not only real pace but world-class footwork that has brought him eight Premiership tries this season to stand joint top of the Premiership charts.
Carreras, 23 and 5ft 8ins, takes his impressive form into tomorrow’s league clash at Kingston Park against the Leicester team Borthwick guided to the title last season and the Tigers will be acutely aware of the threat posed by the Pumas flyer and Adam Radwan, England’s own turbocharged Falcons wing.
With 18 Argentina players at Premiership clubs, including five at London Irish, the Pumas are going to have plenty of inside information on England’s squad heading into the World Cup where Pool D is completed by Japan, Samoa and Chile. The only comforting thought for Borthwick is that he will also be able to put together scouting notes on the English-based Pumas who will form that backbone of the team at the World Cup.
However, that win over England in November has given Argentina a massive psychological boost and a belief they could repeat the performance to top the pool. Carreras is not hiding the importance of the clash in Marseille on September 9 and said: “Our game with England in the World Cup will be like a final for us.
“The win over England at Twickenham was unbelievable and the next time we will play is going to be in the World Cup in France and it was smart of Eddie Jones to prepare England in the Autumn against Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan and it was like a World Cup pool and also good for us.
“We play against all the England players every week in the Premiership and know they are really good because they work hard every day. It’s like the Argies are looking for the English and the English are looking for the Argies every week and there is lots of information is being collected. Last weekend I played against Bath and Joe Cokanasiga and the last time we had faced each other was at Twickenham – crazy.
“Now, we are playing Leicester and their back line has a lot of English internationals like Freddie Steward and Ben Youngs.”
Carreras is a driven individual, constantly striving to prove that size isn’t a factor at any level of rugby and he takes heart from the World Cup winning success of the Springboks Cheslin Kolbe who has proved that despite being just 5ft 7ins he can evade any defence with his speed and footwork. It is those attributes that convinced Pumas coach Michael Cheika to give Carreras a chance and having earned a test start Carreras is redoubling his efforts in training at Falcons.
He explained: “When I was young I wanted to play like Joaquin Tuculet (now at Toronto Arrows) the Pumas fullback at the 2015 World Cup and every team kicked a lot at the tournament and he was really good. I said I wanted to play like Tuculet and also I liked Julian Savea of the All Blacks but I was shorter. Santiago Cordero (Bordeaux) was in the Pumas team and he is shorter than me and was doing really well and now, I look at Cheslin Kolbe, of the Springboks, who is short like me and the best wing in the world.
“I remember when I was 15 in Tucuman we had very good wingers and full-backs in our club at home and I wanted to play every week and the first team coach told me that if I improved my footwork, kicking and catching in the air I would play and so I had to train. I put some cones to help me learn to step in and step out and I still use the cones now in training to get better. I played sevens for Argentina and took part in six or seven tournaments and I tried to find space and score and it helped my footwork a lot and we now have in the Pumas sevens Marcos Moneta and I cannot believe how fast he can run and he is still working on his footwork.
“Every day I would wake up and train to play for the Pumas and I was hoping to play in the Rugby Championship and I wrote down some things I needed to improve like my defence, kicking, taking the ball in the air and footwork . I spoke to all the coaches at Falcons to be able to work on all of those things and then I received a call to join the Pumas in New Zealand but didn’t play and so I realised I had to work even harder and Michael Cheika and I agreed that I needed to make some more improvements to be on the same page.”
Besides improving his rugby every day, Carreras has also shown real commitment to learn English and used the extended lockdown periods during the pandemic to allow him to communicate better with his Falcons teammates who include fellow Pumas Matias Orlando and Matias Moroni. Now, they have been joined by flanker Pedro Rubiolo who Carreras is helping to find a flat and fit into his new life in the North East.
While Carreras is mastering English, the local Geordie accent is proving tougher to understand along with the words to Blaydon Races which the Falcons players sing after every home win. He said: “When arrived I took an English class three/four times a week during lockdown and so we would finish our training session around 4 pm and then I would connect online for one or two hours for the English course. When I came here Dean (Richards) said it was my language that meant I did not play and so I said to myself ‘you must take a class five times a week quick’ to make sure I can play for Falcons. I am keeping up the class but now it is once a week.
“Learning the Blaydon Races is impossible – trust me! Each time we win at home we start to sing the song I try to join in because I read the lyrics and try to remember them like everyone else but it is impossible and so I stamp my feet like we celebrate in Argentina where we jump and sing. The only problem is I cannot sing.
“At Christmas I went to Julian Montoya’s house in Leicester with the Argentina players from Gloucester, Newcastle and Leicester and we all brought some different food and tried to cook like being back at home. Now that Pedro is here at Falcons I told him that everyone at the club will try to speak to you in English or some Spanish and it will be really tough because I know that when I arrived you cannot understand much when you are trying to learn the system.
“When I arrived in Newcastle instead of saying ‘yes’ some said ‘aye’ to me and I didn’t know what this was and so I am trying to learn the Geordie accent and when we Argies meet Will Welch and Micky Young for coffee I ask them if they can speak Geordie with us. Sometimes when scrum coach Mickey Ward speaks to us with his accent it can be difficult to understand what he says. Also he wears shorts all year round even in the snow and I cannot understand how he does this because he doesn’t think it is cold.
“In Tucuman now it is 45c and summer and it only goes to down to 4c in winter and people just wear two jumpers but when I arrived here in the North East for my first training session we had to clear the snow off the pitch and it was minus 3c.”
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