Newcastle Falcons fans will get their first glimpse of Juan Pablo Socino today when the Argentinean sharp-shooter lines up against his former club, Rotherham Titans.
Socino, 26, is the RFU Championship player of the season after leading the second-tier scoring charts last term, the deadly goal-kicker named at inside centre for Newcastle’s first game on their new plastic pitch.
The 3pm kick-off will provide no pushover if last weekend’s scoreline is anything to go by, Rotherham having lost by just five points in a 33-28 reverse against Premiership champions Northampton.
“The last thing you want to do to any Rotherham side is underestimate them,” said Socino, who kicked the Titans to a play-off semi-final place last season.
“People who followed that will know that Rotherham like to play a high-tempo game, to be expansive and to move the ball from everywhere. It will be really simple but really quick, and I would think it will be a good game for the supporters to come and watch.”
Socino’s form earned him a summer call-up for Argentina’s second-string national side, the Jaguars, who competed in the IRB Nations Cup in Georgia.
“I came back on June 25, and I have been loving it,” he said.
“It is a dream come true for me to be involved with a Premiership set-up, and everyone has been really friendly at the club.
“The facilities and professionalism are fantastic, the boys have welcomed me and I cannot complain about anything. I feel at home here already.”
He added: “It was great being back involved with the national set-up. It made me feel like I am back in the loop with them, in one way or another, and it was the cherry on top of what I felt had been a good season.
“It is all behind me know, though, and my head is totally with Newcastle. I just want to do my best for the club, and that is the only way I will get back involved with the national team.”
With countryman Gonzalo Tiesi already at the Falcons and a contringent of South American football players expanding their social circle, Socino explained: “It is great having so many Argentinean guys up here.
“I knew when I signed last year that Gonzo was staying, which makes things easier for me, and he knows a number of guys who play football in the North East.
“We get together for some food, and it makes things easier for us and for our families to have that bit of a home from home sometimes.
“I am into my football, and we went to watch Newcastle against Man City last weekend. It is nice to get your mind away from rugby from time to time, and the team I support is a second-division club from Buenos Aires called Ferro Carril Oeste.
“I doubt anyone over here will have heard of them, but I always follow them and I enjoy playing a little bit when I get the chance.”
Glad to have arrived at a Premiership rugby club with the Falcons stuck in a relegation fight when he first signed last spring, Socino added: “I won’t deny I was keeping an eye on the Falcons even when I was at Rotherham, because that is only natural. My decision was based on where I see myself, and buying into what Newcastle as a club are doing. I wanted to be part of that.”
As well as tomorrow afternoon’s home friendly with Rotherham the Falcons are also sending an under-23s side to Doncaster tomorrow with a host of senior players, captained by Kiwi flanker Richard Mayhew.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS v Rotherham (Kingston Park, 3pm): S Hammersley, S Sinoti, D Barnes, JP Socino, N Cato, R Clegg, R Tipuna; E Fry, S Lawson, K Brookes, C Green, J Furno, U Kolo’ofai, A Saull, A Hogg (captain). Replacements: R Vickers, R Hawkins, O Tomaszczyk, S MacLeod, M Wilson, W Welch, W Fury, P Godman, C Willis.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS U23s v Doncaster (Castle Park, 2.30pm): L Smith, T Small, A Redman, J Helleur, S Brown, T Catterick, M Blair; A Rogers, G McGuigan, S Wilson, G Young, D Barrow, B Tuilagi, D Temm, R Mayhew (captain). Replacements: J Elwood, D Nelson, M Irving, W Witty, G Hedgley, D Grange, D Marshall, D Taylor, C Burn.