Pumas are capable of springing big surprise, warns Titans star

Weekends do not come much bigger than this for Juan Pablo Socino.

Juan Pablo Socino

Today, his home nation visit Twickenham for a major international, then 24 hours later he takes to the field in the most eagerly-anticipated Yorkshire derby for a long time.

Throw in a visit from the in-laws and the Argentinian-born Rotherham Titans centre has his hands full.

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The in-laws have at least presented the 25-year-old with a way out of joining his Titans team-mates in the Clifton Lane clubhouse to watch the England-Argentina game on the television.

“I’ll watch it with the family,” says the Championship’s leading points scorer. “There’s no way I’ll watch it with those guys. Too much stick.”

So, instead, Socino will leave behind the banter for the sanctuary of his home to watch a game he one day hopes to be playing a part in.

He is knocking on the door of an international call-up, despite only playing professional rugby for four years after leaving behind his home in Buenos Aires to chase his dream in Europe.

Spells in Spain, Wales, England and France helped him broaden his rugby horizons and resulted last summer in a call-up to the Argentina Jaguars squad – the second-string equivalent to the England Saxons – for the Nations Cup in Romania.

He was also called up to that level this year, but had to politely decline because he was getting married.

Before saying ‘I do’ to his wife, though, Socino said ‘I will’ to a South American select team that served as England’s first opponents on their summer tour to the continent.

“That was a great experience and a good taste of international rugby,” added Socino, who then went off to get married as Stuart Lancaster’s side won both Tests against his homeland.

On paper, the Pumas who visit London today are the weaker of the three opponents England face this autumn.

They are fresh from a sobering Rugby Championship where they lost all six games. But Socino warns that the nation that shocked rugby by finishing third at the Rugby World Cup in 2007, should never be underestimated.

“It’s always tough playing at Twickenham but I would not write off the Pumas,” he says.

“I know in the Rugby Championship there were times when they were beaten by 60 points, but there were other occasions when they pushed Australia and New Zealand close.

“We are still developing and being in the Rugby Championship has been good for our progress. It will be a tough contest up front today, especially after England’s first performance against Australia. But I don’t think the England backs are gelling very well, so it might be an area Argentina can exploit.”

After fulfilling his role as a Pumas fan, the more serious matter of helping Rotherham defeat Leeds is Socino’s priority.

Tomorrow’s encounter pits two teams who have started the campaign brightly. Leeds, with their resources and stature, are expected to be challenging for promotion, but perennial mid-table outfit Rotherham have won five of their opening six games and sit second in the league.

“We had a strong feeling at the start of the season that we might be onto something,” says Socino.

“I think we’ve taken a few teams by surprise. They’re used to Rotherham being a forwards-first team, but we’ve shown we can play at a high tempo and we’ve scored tries from all over the field.

“We know as the weather gets worse there’ll be games when we have to rely on the forwards, and we do have a very strong forward pack. It’s been great especially for me as a kicker playing behind that pack.”

Socino has made hay while the sun shone. He has scored 114 points, 28 more than anyone else.

This is his second spell with Rotherham, for whom three years ago under Andre Bester he excelled so much he was whisked away by Championship rivals Nottingham.

Dax offered him the chance to try his hand at French rugby a year later, but having been versed in the more physical nature of English rugby, he was keen to get back to test himself again.

“I was a bit frustrated that I hadn’t had any offers from the Premiership after two years in the Championship,” said Socino, who, by a twist of fate, is indebted to two former Leeds players, compatriot Juan Gomez and Yorkshireman Joe Bedford, for the opportunities he was given in his early days in British rugby.

“I knew coming back to Rotherham, I would have a good chance of developing further here. The full-time set-up and the way Lee Blackett (head coach) wants to play rugby was a big draw.

“He wanted me to play at 12, which would be an important part of an expansive team.

“The full-time aspect was a big part of it. When I was first here we were only training a couple of evenings a week and Andre Bester was in charge of everything.

“This time it’s a lot more professional set-up, with a fitness coach and a full support team. Plus we want to bring the fans back to the club. The great atmosphere at Rotherham reminds me of being back home playing rugby.”

Not that he wants to sample it today.