Behind The Scenes | Juan Figallo
Juan Figallo is still trying to make sense of why he had to quit the game he loved at the age of 32. He’d broken bones, stretched ligaments and received countless stitches during an impressive career saw him win 33 caps in the front row for the Pumas, spend five years at Montpellier and six seasons at Sarries.
Then a head injury sustained against England at his third World Cup in Japan in 2019 eventually led to him having to hang up his boots due to concussion. After 96 games for the ‘Men in Black’ he was forced to leave the stage at the StoneX Stadium. The good news is that last summer he joined the backroom staff at the club and is now coaching the U18 academy team and helping Alex Austerberry with the title chasing women’s side.
“I knew I wanted to stay in rugby, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have to head home to Argentina to launch my coaching journey at my former club there. Then Saracens offered me this opportunity and I jumped at the chance,” said Figallo.
“This tournament is massively important in the development of the young players coming through the club system and hoping to break into the senior side. That takes some doing and it takes some time.
“Every player’s journey is different and the backs tend to be able to play at a higher level sooner than the forwards. The Premiership Cup offers them an opportunity to play alongside some senior players and to challenge themselves.
“My role with the U18s is to give them the benefit of my experience and to point them in the right direction. I’m prepared to stay out with them for as long as they want if they put in the effort and want to move forward in their careers.
“As we say at the club the minimum standard is maximum effort. These games are a chance for players to get a taste of a higher grade of rugby. They play for the club to make memories – not solely for trophies. If they can do that then the results will take care of themselves.
“I’m still a very young coach and I’m learning something new every day. The other coaches at the club have all been fantastic with me and they share all their knowledge and experience with me.
“There is the same special Saracens spirit in the coaching room as there is in the dressing room. I’m so happy to still be involved.”
‘Chipi’ joined Saracens in 2014 from Top14 side Montpellier and played during the most successful period of the club’s history. His infectious enthusiasm, along with his undoubted skill and power on the tighthead side of the scrum, earned him a glowing tribute from director of rugby Mark McCall
“Juan epitomises everything it takes to be a good teammate,” said McCall.
In his first season at the club he played crucial roles off the bench in both the Premiership semi-final and final on the way to the club’s second domestic title. The following season he was called upon in both the Champions Cup final against Racing 92, the club’s first European triumph, and the Premiership final against Exeter Chiefs a few weeks later.
He made significant contributions to two more European successes and Premiership titles in 2018 and 2019. No wonder the club wanted to keep him on in a new capacity!
If he had had his way he would still have been pulling on the jersey, rather than preparing those who now wear it in his place. But concussion got the better of him and he now uses his bitter battle against one of the modern scourges of the professional game to better inform the youngsters coming through about the importance of tackle and breakdown technique.
“I had a lot of injuries in my career but I found them easy to overcome. It was a case of letting the doctors fix the problem and then get on with the rehab,” he added.
“If they said it was going to take six to 12 weeks, it was always a battle to try to get back before that date. But with concussion, none of the medical experts were able to give me a timeframe.
“That was hugely frustrating. I’d keep going back to them and they would never be able to tell me when I was going to be able to play again. I’d turn up for training and I wouldn’t be able to run.
“In the end I had to take the decision to end my playing career. You can’t mess with your head!"