Pablo Matera relieved to join Crusaders after challenging year
Matera is arguably the headline signing of the Super Rugby Pacific off-season after joining the Crusaders from French club Stade Francais for next year’s inaugural edition of the revamped competition.
The Canterbury-based franchise announced the signing of Matera way back in April, but only now has the 28-year-old loose forward made his way to Kiwi shores on the back of a difficult test campaign marred by Covid-19 disruptions.
Those disruptions included MIQ difficulties upon entry to New Zealand, which came on the back of a lengthy global road trip with Los Pumas, leaving Matera doubtful that his highly-anticipated move to the Crusaders would even come to fruition.
“It was a big challenge. My partner made it possible, to be honest, because we had to move from Paris to Argentina and then from Argentina coming here,” Matera told reporters in Christchurch on Tuesday.
“Obviously with Covid and getting a spot in MIQ and everything, it was quite challenging, but we put in a lot of effort and made it happen, so I’m really glad. I’m really glad we’re finally here.
“We started talking with everyone six months ago, and I really didn’t know if it was going to be possible because everyday things change and it was getting harder and harder.
“I’m really glad I’m here and really happy I received a lot of support to be able to arrive and be here. I’m really glad to be here.”
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson is equally pleased that his marquee signing is now in the Garden City two months out from the beginning of the new campaign.
Matera is primed to play a crucial role in the Crusaders’ quest for a sixth title in as many years, but he faces stiff competition for places in the franchise’s loose forward stocks.
All Blacks rookie Ethan Blackadder is also expected to dominate in the back row, while one-test wonder Cullen Grace and rising star Tom Christie will no doubt be eager to enhance their cases for All Blacks call-ups.
Depth of that quality in a positional area where there is a high injury toll leaves the Crusaders in a strong position, which is an aspect of his side that Robertson is excited about.
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“That’s the good thing about his experience, coming in and playing international rugby, and all of the three loose forward positions, is really important for us,” Robertson said of Matera.
“There are high-attritional players in that position, so you normally lose one or two loose forwards over the season and you need depth.
“Losing Tom [Sanders] and Whetu [Douglas] to Japan, when the opportunity came [to sign Matera], it was pretty clear with Pablo.
“What I really loved when Pablo mentioned that one of the reasons he’s coming over was he wanted to learn to be a better player.
“Obviously to win championships as well, but to learn and help his own game as well, and he said he believed he could help us and our group.
“I talked to a few of the leaders about the opportunity coming over, and it was ‘yes’ straight away, they didn’t hesitate. We know what we’ll gain from him and the experience he’ll get for us and gain for himself as a player.”
For Matera, the allure of playing for the most successful franchise in Super Rugby history proved an opportunity too good to pass up, especially after the axing of his Jaguares side in the wake of the pandemic.
“Everybody knows the Crusaders. I’ve known the Crusaders since I was a young kid watching TV,” he said.
“I was really lucky to be able to play against them, something that we in Argentina always thought was impossible, but with the Jaguares, being able to be in the competition for a couple of years, it was a dream come true to play against them.
“I never thought I was going to be able to actually play for them, so I thought that the dream had already come true, but now I think there is something more to lose. I am really glad to be here and have the opportunity to be here.”
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