This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
Advertisement

'It's the first time in professional rugby I found it and I found it in Munster'

Munster hooker Eusebio Guiñazú tells The42 about feeling at home 11,000km from his native Mendoza.

MENDOZA IS PERHAPS better known for its winemaking and olive oil production, but the western central Argentinian city may have a Pro12 winner to celebrate later this evening.

Eusebio Guiñazú has found the ultimate home away from home more than 11,000km from his native city, the place where he first fell in love with rugby.

Eusebio Guinazu Guiñazú starts this evening's Guinness Pro12 final against Glasgow. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Despite a career spanning more than a decade and six other professional clubs, it has taken until this season for the 33-year-old hooker to find somewhere he recognises the same passion that originally made him fall for the oval ball game in Mendoza.

Munster feels like Mendoza to Guiñazú, just on a professional and wholly magnified scale.

Guiñazú first took up rugby as a six-year-old with Mendoza Rugby Club, where his father, Carlos, was the president. His brother played for the club and he formed bonds with teammates who remain his closest friends to this day.

The young front row, who is at home at loosehead prop too, shot through the grades, earning an international debut for Argentina in 2003 at the age of 21 against Paraguay, despite still being an amateur player.

In 2005, the time came to turn professional and with Argentina not offering such possibilities, Guiñazú signed for Toulon. He played 21 times in the Top 14 across the front row, before leaving for Agen just as Mourad Boudjellal took over as RCT’s president.

Three years with Agen followed, before he set off for Super Rugby with the Stormers in 2010, moved back to France with Biarritz the following season, had a stint with Toulouse and then played with Bath from 2012 until 2014.

As we sit in a quiet and otherwise almost empty Thomond Park, Guiñazú explains that he certainly always felt a strong sense of wanderlust.

“It’s definitely in my personality to move around, try to go and see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures,” says the Munster hooker, who starts this evening’s Pro12 final against Glasgow in Belfast.

Eusebio Guinazu The hooker has doubled up as a prop many times in his career. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“New rugby cultures as well, because rugby is different in every country so you can learn from all of those.”

All the while, Guiñazú was balancing his club commitments with his 36-cap international career with the Pumas, partly explaining why he never racked up huge appearance totals for his club sides.

“Argentinians have always been in a complicated position,” says Guiñazú.

“I played internationally for the last 11 years and we were playing for Argentina but playing club rugby in Europe at the same time. It’s a different situation to other players from other countries.

The schedules are the opposite; we were playing in a Southern Hemisphere tournament internationally but Northern Hemisphere club rugby. We need to go overseas to be professionals, and sometimes we have had to make very difficult choices.”

Guiñazú says The Rugby Championship has only accented those difficulties since its inception in 2012, meaning Pumas’ players being away from their European clubs for up to five months per season. It hasn’t helped with securing contracts, but the hooker now appears to be out of the international frame.

He had left Bath in June of 2014 and returned home to Argentina hoping to force his way back into the national squad, but despite keeping fit the call never came from head coach Daniel Hourcade.

By September, and with Munster low on hocking stocks, Guiñazú’s CV arrived at Anthony Foley’s desk and the province made a swift move.

“It was a great moment of my career,” says Guiñazú of signing for Munster on an initial four-month contract. ”With experience I felt I could come to a club like this and make my way.

MunsterÕs Eusebio Guinazu John Ryan Paul OÕConnell and Billy Holland Guiñazú [far left] has been made to feel at home by the Munster squad.

“I’m very grateful to Munster because they trusted me at that time. It was difficult, not being selected for Argentina. The province is fantastic and the results have gone well.”

Guiñazú has based himself in Cork, a small city that’s “busy enough, big enough” for a man who grew up among Mendoza’s 115,000 population. Living up to their reputation, the Munster squad swiftly helped him to feel at home, even if there was the difficulty of having missed the pre-season and the bonding processes it involves.

On the pitch, he settled well and after eight appearances Guiñazú extended his deal until the end of the current season.

The one factor that has made the Argentine fall for the province is the residual amateur ethos that endures despite Munster’s modernism and the professionalism with which they prepare.

“I said that since my first day,” says Guiñazú. ”The first thing that really impressed me about Munster, and I think is the thing that makes me feel so comfortable here, is that mix between players that grew up as amateurs, that love the province they play for, that love the jersey, that love to play for Munster, and they do that in a very professional set-up.

“That reminds me a lot of Argentinian rugby. When I used to play for my club in Argentina, it was all about the club, all about the jersey, all about the province. It’s the same here, but here you have the mix with the professional set-up with a very high standard.

“That mix is incredible and it’s probably the first time in professional rugby where I found it and I found it in Munster.

“I can see the lads are dying to play for Munster. It’s not always easy to find that in professional rugby and that reminds me a lot of the way I grew up, so that’s one of the reasons I love it here.”

Eusebio Guinazu The Puma's immediate future has not been announced. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Guiñazú’s affirmation certainly back up the age-old sense, even cliché, that playing for Munster means so much to their homegrown stars, men like Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan.

In that vein, we ask Guiñazú why it’s only so obvious at Munster. Is there not similar passion at the other clubs he ventured through: Toulon, Agen, the Stormers, Biarritz, Toulouse and Bath?

“I’m not saying it won’t happen in other places, but for example in most teams in France, and I’m not trying to be negative here, you will get players from all around the country or even half the squad will be foreigners.

“Even if the rest are French, they often won’t be from the region or the province. In Munster, most of the guys are from the province and the guys who come here know what the Munster values are.

I was here and after only a few weeks I could realise what playing for Munster means. That’s because you have people from here, guys who have been playing for a while. Even in the UK, you’ll get players from all around the country.”

A word of warning in there for the homegrown players looking to pastures new perhaps, though Guiñazú stresses that his previous clubs were also enjoyable to play with.

The fact that Guiñazú has not been away with Argentina playing international rugby is one of the major reasons Munster brought him on board in the first place, and has greatly aided his success in Ireland.

The desire to represent the Pumas will always be there, but even if he wins a Pro12 medal Guiñazú is realistic about returning to the fold under Hourcade.

Eusebio Guinazu 7/9/2013 Guiñazú has 36 Argentina caps. Source: Stephen Barker

“While I’m playing, I will always be dreaming of playing for Argentina,” says Guiñazú. ”It’s something I love to do, but I think I have to be honest with myself. A new coach arrived and they never called me back again.

“I think I should be honest with myself and understand that I’ll probably need to look for other challenges. I’m always available, it’s my country and I’m very proud to play for them. For now, I’m not in their plans.”

Despite being slightly on the outside, Guiñazú looks at the development of Argentinian rugby with pride and happiness.

The Rugby Championship has been huge for the game in his native land, while the launching of a Super Rugby team in 2016 is even more important.

With the new franchise, the guys will be contracted with the Argentinian union. It’s a huge step forward for us. It also brings international rugby home with the franchise, the Kiwi teams and Aussie teams visiting and bringing a lot of people to the stadiums.”

In terms of his own short-term future, there has been no announcement yet from Munster on whether Guiñazú will be sticking around next season. His impressive form in recent times makes it seem more of a possibility but the hooker says he has only one focus this week.

“I haven’t decided it yet,” says Guiñazú, “it’s just about timing. It’s the final week and I think the most responsible thing to do is keep focused on the final and then I’ll have time to think and decide about my future.

“I shouldn’t be thinking about anything other than this final and I won’t do it, I’ll just stay focused on that and after the final we can talk about it.”

Eusebio Guinazu Mendoza will always call for Guiñazú. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Beyond his playing days, Guiñazú looks to Mendoza. The 33-year-old comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent individual with a genuine thirst to learn from and teach others.

That much is confirmed when he explains that he’s fully certain his rugby adventure will come full circle within the next few years. He doesn’t fancy following Carlos Guiñazú into the presidency of Mendoza RC, but he wants to continue to give back to the club he loves.

“I know I will coach them, I definitely will,” says ‘Seb’. “I love coaching, I love training and I’m already helping them. Once a month they send me videos of their games and I try to help them.

All the coaches there are working at the same time, it’s amateur rugby, so I try to help them a lot. Every time I go there for holidays, I set game plans or pre-season plans, whatever.

“I keep in touch all the time with them, so I will definitely coach them some day. I’ve had a lot of different coaches and different rugby cultures. I always try to be very receptive and try to learn from all of them.

“I’m really passionate about it and I’m already writing down lots of things, I’ve got lots of material to do it. To be honest, in my mind I already know how I would like my team to play, what I would like to do with scrums, all of that.”

One senses that Guiñazú’s Mendoza team won’t be short on passion and love for the game.

‘He has an infectious positivity’ – Schmidt pleased to have Henry back

‘I’ll get a few things wrong’ – Schmidt ponders Ireland’s World Cup squad

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

Read next:

COMMENTS (5)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel