28 November 2022
Speaking on the Argentina Head Coach Michael Cheika, Juan Martín González commented: “He’s a really, really good coach, and he changed our mindset as a squad - we trust him a lot and he trusts us too.”
A new age in Argentinian rugby is dawning, 2022 has seen Los Pumas propel themselves into international contenders with a collection of momentous and noteworthy victories over the calendar year.
With Cheika assuming the reins in March of this year, a rapid rise has seen the South American nation take wins over Scotland, England and the All Blacks.
González has played 12 of his 20 Test matches for his country under the Australian coach, with the shift in approach and results credited to the new ways of thinking from above.
“Since I started playing for the Pumas, I think we have improved a lot,” he admitted.
“More so our mentality, because we want to be a winning team and we are starting to get those big wins.
“Those wins against New Zealand and England are very important because they increased the belief we have as a team.”
A memorable season for Argentina began with a 2-1 series triumph on home soil over Scotland, González playing in all three games as his team secured their first series win over Scotland in 28 years.
It was also a first home series win since a triumph over Ireland in 2007, doing so accompanied with three fellow Exiles in Agustín Creevy, Lucio Cinti and new addition, Ignacio Ruiz.
In a matter of months, Argentina beat New Zealand on home soil for the first time, the back-row forward scoring in the Rugby Championship encounter that finished 25-18.
Perhaps a crowning moment, a day where “the process” was trusted once more, was a first win over England in 13 years and first win at Twickenham Stadium in 16 years this past November.
“It was a really tough game, but we prepared very well for that Test.
“We played out what we trained during the week, we trusted in the process we have and if you do that, then you can get the wins.
“We felt very and happy and excited when it finished, we knew it was a big thing to win at Twickenham but we had two more games to go.
“That day was amazing for me because living in England I was with my people too all around me - it’s a dream, I’m very proud and very happy to play for Argentina.
“I enjoyed the win, but we had to switch on and start thinking ahead to what was to come.”
What followed was stern opposition in the form of home nations Wales and Scotland to see out the 2022 Autumn Nations Series campaign.
Reverses against the Welsh in Cardiff and then against familiar foes in Gregor Townsend’s men would normally put a sour tinge on an otherwise historic 12 months for any team.
Not necessarily for the 22-year-old and his band of Pumas, who underscores the intent to master the level of consistent results expected on the international stage.
“We didn’t play as well as we could and didn’t feel like we matched what we trained like before the games,” González confessed.
“We conceded a lot of penalties and made a lot of errors, our discipline in the Scotland game was starting to disappear as we were just improving in the game, and we allowed three yellow cards and a red card.
“That can happen sometimes, we prepared for that game against Scotland like a final but it’s better to prepare now and lose and not in the World Cup.
“It’s a process to the World Cup, we have had a really good year but of course, but everything can get better.”
Looking ahead to perhaps the biggest stage in world rugby next autumn, the approach adopted by the precocious loose forward sees him retract any comment about any involvement with Argentina.
“I don’t know if I am going to be there, so I prefer not to talk about it,” the humble perspective offered by González is grounded, despite him being one of the standout performers for any nation in the Rugby Championship this year.
He finished the second-highest try scorer in the tournament with four, fifth in overall points scored with 20, joint-sixth in clean breaks (four), seventh in lineouts won (12), and was one of five Pumas making up the top 10 tacklers in the 2022 Rugby Championship with 54.
To reflect on a year well spent on the Club and international stage, team chemistry is an additional citation given by González that has played its part in the development of Argentina of late.
“It’s our change in wanting to win every game, and not just winning an important game and losing the next game.
“That’s something we can take from our games recently, we are looking to be constant.
“The squad and the chemistry is also very important, if you have an amazing group like us then it makes the game a bit easier.
“You can speak to your friend and be honest, and the older guys can also be a teacher to the younger boys as well but age doesn’t really matter.
“We can all talk to each other in a similar level.”
Such mentorship may play a role in welcoming a certain exciting new addition to London Irish, with the acquisition one tipped to be excited about for the Exile Nation.
“Ignacio [Ruiz] can give a lot for this Club, he’s a really good guy and is improving every day.
“What he can give to us is good scrums, great lineouts and can run hard.
“He is a good player, with a lot of energy and a lot of heart.”