The Interview | Juan Martin Gonzalez
JUAN-MARTIN GONZALEZ SPENT PART OF LAST MONTH GEARING HIMSELF UP TO TAKE ON OWEN FARRELL, YET NOW HE IS PLAYING HAPPILY ALONGSIDE HIM.
The Argentinean back row man started every one of the Pumas seven games at the recent World Cup in France, which included the opening pool match against England and then the Bronze Final in Paris. In the latter, England were led by his new clubmate, Farrell.
It was a close shave for England, who won 26-23 in Paris, with Gonzalez no doubt reflecting on the fact all the points against his side were scored by Saracens players. England won the pool encounter 27-10.
After overcoming the disappointment of finishing fourth, he had to head to the StoneX Stadium and introduce himself properly to the players who had wrecked his dream a few weeks earlier. England’s points came from tries by Ben Earl and Theo Dan, along with 16 from the ever-reliable boot of Farrell.
Gonzalez also got up close and personal with Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Elliot Daly, and also played against Wales centre Nick Tompkins in the quarter-final. So, how was it treating Farrell and co as friends rather than foes?
“It was really good to play against such a good English team that was packed full of Saracen players, but it was also hard. And it was obviously disappointing to lose to them twice,” admitted Saracens’ 23-year-old new boy.
“It showed me what I could expect when I joined the club after the World Cup. They are all hugely influential players and it will be nice to have them on my side now.”
Gonzalez is the second big name back row man to join the Sarries squad for this season along with England No 8 Tom Willis. He has already picked up two appearances, and two wins, and is hungry for more. But while he may be new to Saracens, he certainly knows his way around the Gallagher Premiership.
The unfortunate financial collapse of London Irish earlier this year meant he had to find a new club. Having played 37 times for the Exiles over two seasons, he had plenty of admirers.
Director of Rugby Mark McCall certainly didn’t hold back when he announced the signing in the summer: “Juan is a player who we are very excited about. He has shown his ability in the Premiership over the past couple of seasons and we believe he has his best rugby ahead of him.”
Juan arrived at his new club with his Puma teammate Lucio Cinti in tow, and they are following in a long line of Argentinean players who have played for the ‘Men in Black’ - Eduardo Bello, Emiliano Bergamaschi, Marcelo Bosch, Tomás de Vedia, Juan Figallo, Roberto Grau, Francisco Leonelli and Juan-Pablo Socino.
“I love the fact there have been so many great Argentine players who have been at Saracens before me. It means I will have to maintain the high standards they have set before me,” added Juan.
“I got a very warm welcome when I arrived – everyone helped me to settle in. It has been great to play a couple of games and I was delighted to score my first try for the club against Newcastle Falcons.
“When I was playing at London Irish I knew that Saracens were the best team in the competition. Since I’ve arrived here, I can see why.
“The competition for places is crazy, and that’s not just from the internationals in the squad. Standards are high and I know I’ve got a fight on my hands every week to get the chance to play.”
Having learned his rugby at Marista rugby club in Mendoza, with his father coaching him in his early days, Juan quickly developed. He played at the World Rugby U20 Championships in 2019 and won the first of his now 28 caps in Romania at the age of 20 – scoring a try in his first 11 minutes of senior international rugby.
He now has eight test tries to his credit, his last won coming at the World Cup in the 59-5 win over Chile.