Santiago Arata, the “Antoine Dupont” of Montevideo

Uruguayan scrum half Santiago Arata, during the Top 14 match between Castres and Brive at the Pierre-Fabre stadium in Castres, October 30, 2021.

When he broke his hand in July, Santiago Arata thought he saw his dreams of the Rugby World Cup in France disappear. In any case, this is the meaning of the first diagnosis given to the Uruguayan scrum-half then in full preparation for the World Cup with his teammates. The emblematic player of Castres Olympique (CO), in the French first division, then confides his distress to his club doctor, who will use his connections. The next day, Santiago Arata was on a plane to France, heading to an operating table in Toulouse.

A few weeks of rehabilitation later, the spearhead of his selection is preparing to start his second World Cup, against France (Thursday at 9 p.m.), in the shoes of a starter.

A few days before the match, in the hotel of his selection, in the heart of Avignon, Santiago Arata has stars in his eyes: “If I am here today, 100% for the match against France, it is thanks to France, thanks to your medicine. You, as a French person, do not realize the quality of life you have. I come from an underdeveloped country, where you have to have money or contacts. Here, it’s incredible! Every French person is considered equally. »

“I wondered if I had made the right choice”

The native of Montevideo did not always have this somewhat idyllic vision of France. He arrived in the Tarn prefecture in the summer of 2020, shortly after a World Cup in Japan where he impressed all observers of the rugby world. He, the former footballer who was introduced to rugby at the age of 13 on the sidelines of his cles at the French high school in Montevideo, notably carried his team during its victory against Fiji, a performance which marked the first round of the 2019 World Cup .

When winter arrives and the rebound of the Covid-19 pandemic, far from his family and his partner who remained in Uruguay, alone in his apartment in the city center, the restrictions, the curfew and the isolation are difficult to live. “It was a complicated period, recognizes the pocket scrum half. Castres is a small town, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t hang out with anyone. There were only training sessions. I wondered if I had made the right choice. »

Especially since his departure for France looked like a bet, he who even considered stopping rugby after the 2019 World Cup. But Santiago Arata is a man of challenge, so when the CO offered him a first contract, he did not put not long before deciding to come and compete in the toughest championship on the planet. There he discovered professional rugby, became a locker room captain and made a strong impression on the field. He ends the year in his position, debunking French international Rory Kockott in the process. Having become, over the course of his three seasons in the Top 14, one of the best scrum halves in the championship, he is today at the end of his lease with the CO and his profile is arousing the appetite of the biggest clubs.

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