The 1.92-meter, 111-kilogram player, who asked for “respect” before beating the All Blacks, suffered the death of his father at age 13, while facing older players.
Barely three minutes had passed since the duel between Los Pumas and the All Blacks in the third game of the Tri Nations 2020, when Pablo Matera starred in a situation that will be immortalized forever. When in the midst of frictions and blows Shannon Frizell slapped Marcos Kremer, came out in defense of his teammate and exchanged grips and a few words with the New Zealander. And before the referee’s claim, who asked him to act as captain and show leadership, he replied: “I can’t see a teammate being hit in the face. It’s not respect. I play for my country and that is not respect“.
Firm and committed, but polite. In that phrase the essence of the Argentine captain was reflected, one of the figures of the historic triumph of the national team against the oceanic.
At 27 years old, at 1.92 meters tall and 111 kilos combines strength, tackle and skills, in addition to a lot of dedication and heart. And also a strong character, which he began to build as a child, when during his early years in rugby he used to face older players and had to play more aggressively so that they did not pass him over. A combo that led him to become the leader of Los Pumas on and off the court.
Matera was trained at Alumni, where many of his friends played. Although it did not start from a very young age. For many years, his favorite sport was soccer. He played “9” and even played some tournaments in Pilar. But in his teens he began to practice more with the oval ball at school and decided to start training at the Buenos Aires club.
When he was 17 years old, he was summoned to a concentration of the 1991 litter – two years older than him – to form the Los Pumitas team for the 2011 Youth World Cup. He was left out of the squad for that tournament, but the experience opened the eyes and made him realize how big the world of rugby really was.
“There I knew there was something else beyond Alumni, that Argentines had been selected, that there was a Youth World Cup. I wanted to be summoned for that contest. As I participated only in that concentration and my colleagues had done a work process, I stayed outside. I decided to go to the World Cup the following year, the category 92. For this reason, I began to give more importance to rugby, to play more seriously. Fortunately, I was able to go, “he said a few years ago in a talk with The graphic.
From the beginning, Matera -who entered the Pladar in 2011 and there affirmed his game and his skills- showed great maturity to face each new challenge, something that did not surprise those who knew him. It is that Pablo had grown suddenly at the age of 13, when his father Flavio passed away, who taught him to handle himself with discipline, respect and obedience. “It was a bucket of cold water, but it helped us a lot to grow,” he said.
That blow that gave him life marked him. As was also marked by the way in which her mother Janina raised the family (Pablo and his three sisters Ana, Inés and Juana). From her, the third line learned how to never lower his arms and overcome adverse situations.
After that debut with Los Pumitas at the 2012 World Cup in South Africa, a season in which he also played the Dubai Seven, he had a very busy 2013. Because he had his first European experience when he was only 20 years old and signed for one season with Leicester, where he played 8 games and scored two tries.
That year, he played the U20 World Cup in France and made the leap to the senior team. His debut with the Los Pumas jersey was in May against Chile and later he was part of the squad for the Rugby Championship, where he played all the matches of the tournament.
Since then, he had a stint at Pampas XV between 2013 and 2015. He played his first World Cup for seniors in England 2015, in which the Pumas were fourth after losing to Australia in the semis and to South Africa in the bronze match. And he joined Jaguares in 2016, the Argentine franchise with which he was runner-up in Super Rugby last year and of which he became captain in 2018, when Mario Ledesma took over as coach.
Ledesma also took him to the captaincy of Los Pumas at the end of that same year. “Pablo embodies the values we want for the team. Not necessarily that he is the most charismatic type, but that he infects the rest. Leave life on the court. He’s a super authentic guy, “commented the coach after announcing that Matera would be the leader on the court in place of Agustin Creevy.
Last year he had a tough time with the team selected at the World Cup in Japan, in which they hoped to do a good job and ended up saying goodbye in the first round. After that coup, Matera packed the bags and left for France to join the Stade Francais. Thus, his future in the Pumas was in doubt, due to the UAR regulations that restrict “European” players to be part of the national team.
But with the relaxation of that rule, Ledesma did not hesitate to call him for that new 2020 season. “The consensus within the team regarding his figure is impressive. The team benches him a lot and Pablo is very in tune with what we want to co- create within the campus “, commented the coach a few months ago in an interview with the site Scrum.com.
Matera thanked him for his confidence on the court. In the first game of a very hard year due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was key with his leadership and also with his tackles to lead the pack of forwards that withstood the attacks of the New Zealanders and helped seal that unforgettable 25-15 against the All Blacks.
Behind the match, in which he starred in that exchange of words with the referee that will be remembered forever as an iconic moment of a historic day for Argentine rugby, he dedicated the victory to all Argentines.