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I would like to introduce you a young man that carries the responsibility of stepping into the breach when Argentina captain Agustin Creevy (31) exits or is not available to command the front line of the Pumas.
Julian Montoya (22) is the sure bet, if he manages to stay healthy and focus, to be the hooker for the Pumas when the Rugby World Cup is played in Japan in 2019.
Having played Rugby World Cup 2015, and already with 16 caps on his shoulders, Montoya has also played a lot of minutes for the Jaguares in Super Rugby 2016. I had the pleasure to meet him and exchange some questions and answers right before his departure to South Africa for the beginning of the new edition of the Rugby Championship.
Let’s read what he has to say about himself, the Jaguares, and the expectations for The Pumas for the upcoming tournament.
NB: Hi Julian, could you please give us a brief description of how you got involved in the sport of rugby?
JM: I started at the age of ten. I went to a school where rugby is a very important aspect of education, Cardenal Newman, and it was my father that fostered me to play the sport. From there on I went through all the junior divisions. The school and club breeds rugby players; the Contepomi brothers (Felipe and Manuel) attended the same school, and it also happens to be the same school that the current president of Argentina went to, although rugby was not his thing.
The rugby in Argentina is amateur but it has a system called PLADAR where players from all over the country are selected and train to represent Argentina in the junior categories, and I was lucky enough to be selected. I think I did well there and from that point I was available for the different teams that represent Argentina in rugby at all levels.
NB: Is is true that you played for the Pumas before playing in the top division of your club? Is not that out of the ordinary?
JM: In 2014, after playing the junior World Cup in 2013, I went touring with Argentina XV (Pumas B). Also in 2014 I started playing again for my club Newman, but I was never called to played in the first division. The hooker at the time was very good and with lots of years in the position.
However, in the international window of the same year I went to the bench against Ireland and the following week I made my debut as a starter against Scotland with the Pumas. Later in the same year I finally played for my club, but only for one game since the following week I signed my contract with UAR. As a professional I am banned from the amateur arena. So yes, it is kind of awkward or at least not the normal path to reach the Pumas.
NB: How was your experience at Rugby World Cup 2015 and how did you become a player for Jaguares?
JM: It was incredible, I was playing against the players I have been watching on TV for the last few years, and there I was in front of so many people, representing my country and playing with and against the best.
Thanks for that goes to my family, girlfriend, and friends who were there to support me. Some of the most experienced players talked to me, especially Agustin (Creevy) along with some other. The coaches gave me all the support I needed at the time.
I had the chance to spend a lot of time on the field, which is the place I feel more comfortable and some of the games were unreal, physically and emotionally. Before going to the Rugby World Cup I signed a contract with the UAR, so as I mentioned it before I am at the disposal to any of the teams of the UAR and I was called into the Jaguares.
NB: Tell me bit about the first Super Rugby experience. Which things you like the most and where did you find difficulties or unexpected challenges?
JM: It was an exceptional experience, I enjoyed it a lot. It was very intense to be able to play against the best teams in the world almost every weekend, it is something that helps you to grow as a player. I am sure it helped rugby in general for Argentina.
It was not very positive in terms of results and we have many things to adjust for next year. I did not anticipate the toll the travel would take; the changes in time zones, but what I probably underestimated the most was the quality of rugby you must be prepare to play week in and out against quality teams and players that have been on the road for a number of years. They know how to play these games and tournament.
We will have to use this first experience to make the adjustments to do better next year, though we have learned that starting quality players is not enough to win against these opponents.
NB: Which team and player you played against in Super Rugby strikes you the most?
JM: The two finalists, Lions and Hurricanes definitely had an edge over the others. The defence of the Hurricanes has such an impact in your head, because even you have ball control most of the time, something we like to do, you just cannot score and end up making a mistake that they turn immediately into points.
On the other hand, the Lions are so dynamic that they are very difficult to defend against, especially when they play at home where the altitude is an important factor. There many players to choose but I am always looking for the ones that play in my position and I do think that Dane Coles is a bit above the rest.
NB: Do you have a player on your position in activity or not that you try to emulate on the field?
JM: Again, Dane Coles is a hooker that I follow a lot; very dynamic, very fast, runs a lot and very nice lines. Polota-Nau is a very physical and strong player also, but the one I had the honour to play against and I try to copy is now retired from the game, Keven Mealamu.
NB: You have the responsibility to fill Agustin Creevy’s shoes when he is not on the field, How do you cope with that?
JM: It makes me very proud. He is not only a great player but also the captain and leader of the Jaguares and Pumas. We have an excellent relationship despite the age gap among us and gives me a lot of support on and off the field. He is not shy to pass on his experiences and is a real help. He helps me show all my potential to help the team whenever I have the chance.
NB: You had the chance to be officiated by different referees during the Rugby World Cup, Rugby Championship, and Super Rugby. Do you find different interpretations on the rules among them, and is the language a problem since all the games are run in English?
JM: All my life I have been taught that the ref is always right even when he is not. The same approach is taken by our coaches and it is what they preach to us. It is true that the interpretations vary from one ref to another but we have to learn to adapt as quick as possible during the game.
This year with Super Rugby we had the chance to be exposed to many of them, and our staff took notes on this that will help us for next year. The language has been a problem with a few of the players, but in my case I went to an English school so it does not bother me at all.
NB: What is the difference between Pumas and Jaguares since both teams consist basically of the same players?
JM: The Pumas is the national team and the Jaguares is a franchise to play in Super Rugby. It is true that most of the players in the Jaguares play in the Pumas. We play in Jaguares to become eligible to play for the Pumas which is the ultimate goal for us as players.
The staff is different and some of the attacking and defence structures are different also. The way to approach the games in the franchise has to be adapted every week in accordance with the opponents despite having our own style. The game plan and objectives are different for both tournaments in the same manner that they differ when you play Rugby World Cup or a Test match.
NB: Going into the Rugby Championship, which are your individual and team objectives for the 2016 edition?
JM: My personal objective is to have as much possible time on the field as I can, and in those minutes be as solid as I can to help team reach the objectives.
As a team we would like to win the Rugby Championship, like every tournament we play in. But we have to be realistic and we are looking to improve on what we did last year, that is to win at least two games.
We understand that New Zealand is steps above us, but we have beaten the other two nations before, and we know that if we have good day we can come out with a positive result.
We have not played any teams from Australia this year due to the structure of the Super Rugby conference system, but from what we saw nothing will come easy for us. The Springboks are under a new staff that wants to add some elements from the Lions’ style of play, so I expect their usual physicality plus a more dynamic approach in their attack. This always takes some time for fine tuning, but they have the players to do it. I expect a lot of players from the Lions to be in their squad.
NB: At 22 years you have already played a Rugby World Cup, a few games of the Rugby Championship, an entire season with the Jaguares in Super Rugby, and a few Test matches in a position that usually requires more maturity when you look around other players. What are your plans for the future?
JM: I know that a lot has happened to me in a short period of time in regards to the game of rugby and my plan is to give 100% to be more competitive and play rugby at top level for many years. I am conscious that it requires a lot of sacrifices and effort that I am willing to put in. I am also mature enough to understand that the career of a pro rugby player can end at any time without warning, so I am studying business administration at university to prepare myself for retirement that hopefully will come after many years of rugby.
NB: Thank you Julian and good luck in RCH 2016.
JM: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
There you have it, Julian Montoya, 184cm and 102kg making his silent way to Japan.
If you have the chance keep an eye on this fellow.