Tiger set to welcome Pumas to Leicester
Argentina will get their RWC 2015 campaign under way on 20 September with a showdown against defending champions New Zealand at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium in London.
It is hard to imagine a grander setting for the Pumas’ opening match of the tournament, but for one Argentine in particular the prospect of facing Tonga and the Africa 1 qualifier two weeks later in Leicester will be equally significant.
Marcos Ayerza, the Pumas' loosehead prop, has spent the last eight years playing for Leicester Tigers and, in just 19 months’ time, will welcome his countrymen to the East Midlands for Argentina’s last two matches in Pool C.
Adapting to life in England
By any definition, the bustling South American metropolis of Buenos Aires is a long way from the English East Midlands. But despite the contrast, Ayerza has adapted well to life in England and the 31-year-old is still thriving in the top flight of English rugby:
“Signing for Leicester Tigers in 2006 marked a huge change for me. I went from living in Buenos Aires, which is a massive, noisy city with traffic everywhere, to Leicester, which has a completely different pace of life,” explained Ayerza.
“I’m also one of 10 siblings and, having always lived with my parents, I suddenly found myself living alone in England. Needless to say, I was quite homesick at the beginning. But I was there to play rugby, and the fact that I was enjoying playing with Tigers from the outset is what really helped me settle in to life in England.
“The move to professional rugby was also a huge step up and changed my life completely. The whole structure of the club was a big jump from what I was used to at Club Newman in Argentina; the approach to coaching, the medical staff, everything was different.
“The way the fans engage with the sport here is also a big change - rugby is popular in Argentina, but here in Leicester people live and breathe rugby, and I love that enthusiasm. Luckily, I am very happy living in Leicester and playing for Tigers.”
Looking ahead to RWC 2015
Since his move to England, Ayerza has established himself as one of the most valuable loosehead props in the Game, and can look back at a glittering career with Leicester Tigers, including six Premiership finals and two European Cup finals.
Ayerza’s international credentials are equally impressive, featuring in the Pumas' sides that finished third at RWC 2007 and reached the quarter-finals of RWC 2011. As Ayerza nears a half century of caps for Argentina, the front row forward is still in fine form for club and country, and is clearly motivated by the prospect of seeing the Pumas arrive in Leicester next year.
“It’s really exciting to think of Argentina playing two RWC 2015 matches in Leicester. Even though the matches won’t be at Welford Road, it will still be very special to see my country playing in the city that I have called home for the last eight years. The Pumas will have two games at Leicester City Stadium, and the matches against Tonga and Africa 1 will be very emotional for me.
“I’m one of three Argentine internationals at Leicester Tigers this season. Gonzalo Camacho and Pablo Matera also play here, and we are all very enthusiastic about seeing the Pumas come to Leicester.
“It feels like a dream – going abroad in 2006, gradually making Leicester my home, and eight years later, Argentina are going to be playing here in a RWC. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more, and I really hope that I am involved with the Pumas next year.”
Ayerza charmed by local attractions
Having spent eight years in Leicester, Ayerza has had plenty of time to explore the attractions of the East Midlands, and believes that visitors to Leicester for RWC 2015 should take the time to discover the heart of rural England.
“There are so many beautiful places to see in Leicester and I hope that the visitors who come here for RWC 2015 take advantage of this opportunity to explore the East Midlands. First and foremost, I would say to any rugby fan that they should visit Welford Road to see a rugby club that has a wonderful heritage.
“I would also recommend visiting the Foxton Locks, Stamford, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwick, Oakham and of course the city of Rugby itself. The East Midlands is a beautiful part of the country and I feel very lucky to play here.”
Rugby World Cup 2015 match schedule for Argentina:
Sunday, 20 September – New Zealand v Argentina – Wembley Stadium
Friday, 25 September – Argentina v Europe 1 – Kingsholm Stadium
Sunday, 4 October – Argentina v Tonga – Leicester City Stadium
Sunday, 11 October – Argentina v Africa 1 – Leicester City Stadium