KUMAGAYA, 8 Oct – Juan Manuel Leguizamon’s international farewell closes a chapter in the history of Los Pumas, as the last member of the team who took third place at Rugby World Cup 2007 retires from international rugby.
If Argentinian rugby enjoyed golden ages when its team of 1965 secured a first-ever victory against the Junior Springboks and when the class of 1985 drew 21-21 with the All Blacks, their achievements at RWC 2007 - where Leguizamon was a key player - will also go down in history.
Leguizamon's tackle on the new French hero Sebastien Chabal was the highlight of a bronze final which the Pumas won 34-10, denying the host nation third place in their own Rugby World Cup.
Six weeks earlier they had stunned the hosts with a 17-12 win in the opening match at the Stade de France, setting the tone for the tournament in which Fiji would beat Wales and France themselves would stun New Zealand in Cardiff. Los Pumas defeated Scotland in the quarter-finals, above, before falling to eventual champions South Africa in the final four.
After a training session at the Kumagaya Rugby Stadium on Tuesday, the veteran from Santiago Lawn Tennis Club – a spawning ground for other back-row greats such as Tomas Lezana and Facundo Isa – confirmed that the USA game would be his last for the Pumas.
On Wednesday, the 36-year-old back-rower will win his 87th cap and play his 15th World Cup match since his RWC debut in 2007. Leguizamon is struggling to come to terms with leaving.
"It’s tough, because I have been with the team for many years and you can’t just sum it up in two words. These last few days have been hard… too many thoughts and emotions," he said.
"In any case, I’m trying to focus on the now and the game with the USA, so that we may leave afterwards with a few laughs, hugs and a better feeling all around. That’s our goal."
While the Pumas are leaving a World Cup before the knockout stage for the first time since 2003, Leguizamon thinks that playing in his fourth tournament is the perfect way to sign off. He has not played yet at RWC 2019 and said: "It is a real pleasure to play my first match in this World Cup. The dream that came true will end tomorrow, and I feel tremendously grateful to life and for having been given the chance."
Leguizamon has played at both flanker and number eight with the same defining ferocity and determination.
"There is no secret. I did everything with passion, love, and quite possibly a little wildness too. To wear the Pumas shirt is all the motivation you need."
The physical forward began his rugby career at his local club in Santiago, where Leguizamon, his father and his brother made up the first team's entire back row. He graduated to play for Argentina's San Isidro Club before moving to London Irish, Stade Francais and Lyon before returning home to play for Jaguares.
He remains undecided over whether he will continue playing for the Argentinian Super Rugby team.
Juan Fernandez Lobbe, ex-team-mate, friend and now Argentina forwards coach, said of his ex-partner in the back row: "I cannot think of a better companion. He always put the team first. Every decision he made was for the team, for this shirt, and he deserves every single word of praise and much more."