The Big Interview: Mario Sagario - His national pride burns bright, but prop aims to shine in red
Uruguayan tighthead loving first season in Ireland after dream World Cup in England
Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30
Mario Sagario was something of an unknown quantity prior to the World Cup last year. But after a number of seasons playing second-tier club rugby in France, World Rugby's showpiece event gave him the platform to get noticed.
Despite his rock-solid displays against some of the world's best in Pool A - where Australia, England, Wales and Fiji all fought it out - it was a surprise when Munster announced their interest in the 29-year-old tighthead.
It was a dream come true for the Montevideo native, and he wasted no time in securing the move following an initial trial period, where he continued to impress.
"Two or three days after I finished the World Cup, my agent called and said that Munster needed a prop and they were asking about me," he recalls.
"I said tell me the truth, are they calling me, or calling a prop? He said they are calling you, asking only about you. It was on a Thursday, and he said we have to be in Cork as soon as possible.
"I was really tired. I was going to have a few days off after the World Cup, but when I saw Munster were scouting I said, no days off, I will go straight away. I couldn't believe it."
Sagario has gone on to play 12 times for the province since his debut in the Pro12 against Edinburgh in November.
But none of that would have been possible had he not been part of the Uruguayan side that captured the heart of neutrals during the World Cup.
Sagario has 52 caps for his country and started all four games, but it wasn't his first taste of northern hemisphere rugby. He arrived in Europe in 2009 where he joined Dax in the French ProD2, after they had been relegated from the top tier. He was there for two seasons, and also had a stint at Massy.
Yet still, nothing other than the World Cup could have catapulted him into an arena where he would be competing against the best looseheads, in front of crowds in excess of 70,000.
In their opening pool game, they played Wales in a jam-packed Millennium Stadium, with 71,887 in attendance. But Sagario says the clash with England was definitely the most memorable.
Uruguay lost 60-3 but singing the national anthem, with their national flag dotted everywhere around the stadium, it was an emotional moment.
"The World Cup was an amazing experience for all of us. We all learned a lot, from the players, to the staff, doctors, everyone did. I imagined how the first game was going to go, and in reality it was better than everything that I could imagine," he says.
"It was very emotional singing the national anthem. You wanted to sing, but you couldn't because you were at breaking point. You didn't know whether you were going to cry. A lot of families and friends came to the games to support us.
"We were in the toughest pool. For example when we played against England, all of the English supporters were there with the Uruguayan flag. Standing in the pitch and looking at the crowd it was full of Uruguayan flags.
"And we were thinking, it cannot be possible, that's too many Uruguayans. After, when we got out of the stadium, we walked down to a reception we had for the supporters, and we found out that they were English supporters supporting Uruguay. There were a lot of tears."
Uruguay is a football-mad country, the first team to win the FIFA World Cup in 1930. They won it again 20 years later, and rugby has never been able to compete. However the Rugby World Cup was shown live on TV in Uruguay and Sagario believes it's growing in popularity.
"Rugby is getting bigger now with the World Cup. It's growing really, really big. They made a lot of changes. They got us our own rugby stadium, where we train, we have the gym and everything in there. We play our games there too," he says.
"People are getting closer with the rugby. It's a very soccer-orientated country. It's tough to change them over because they think, oh look at them they hit each other. But after, when they try it they love it. The rugby is going into the public schools, all the kids are starting to play and it's getting big, really fast."
And Sagario is one of their shining lights in the northern hemisphere as he comes to the end of his first season with Munster, not knowing what lies ahead, with players like Stephen Archer and John Ryan for competition.
"We all really want time on the pitch, but it's a good competition between us. You can improve, you learn from the others and everything is going great," he says.
"If you are competing with someone, it could be a better player than you, you can learn a lot and his level is going up, as is yours. You have to be in there to get the opportunity to play. You can't rest up, you have to keep working, keep improving to see can you get in.
"I love it here in Munster, the fans are real fans. They follow their team everywhere. I see the groups they have on the internet writing about the team, about the games and everything. I really enjoy that.
"I know sometimes it's tough when you don't get the results you want. But most of the time I receive good messages from them and that's great."