Marcos Moneta won’t forget the last 12 months in a hurry.
From winning Argentina’s first Olympic Sevens medal by taking bronze in Tokyo, to ending the Los Pumas Sevens' 13-year wait for a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series gold medal in Vancouver and topping the Series standings in Toulouse, there has been one success after another for the speedster.
The 22-year-old’s sensational form has been a driving force behind his team’s memorable year, which led to him earning the ultimate individual accolade by becoming the first Argentinian winner of the World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year in association with HSBC award in December 2021.
“It was amazing. I never imagined that I would win that trophy,” Moneta told World Rugby.
“But it’s recognition for the work of the team, not of myself, for the incredible season that we're having.
“All the tournaments prior, the Olympic bronze in Tokyo, that was the main reason I won that award. I’m grateful to the team and really happy.”
Things can still get better for the modest Moneta before the season is up.
South Africa’s shock pool-stage exit during the HSBC Sevens Series in Toulouse, and Argentina’s progress to the quarter-finals, saw the Los Pumas Sevens move two points clear of the Blitzboks at the top of the Series standings ahead of the penultimate event of the season in London, which kicks off Saturday, 28 May.
“It’s strange, it’s a new feeling,” Moneta said.
“As Los Pumas Sevens, we’ve never been on top of the standings, it’s another responsibility but it feels really good. There have been three years of hard work for this moment to come.”
The secret is consistency
Argentina’s consistency has been the secret to their success thus far.
Ten tries and dazzling displays from Moneta inspired the Los Pumas Sevens to win their first Series gold medal since 2009 in Vancouver in April this year.
While that was undoubtedly the highlight of their season so far, Argentina have medalled five times total in seven events this season, picking up one silver and three bronzes in addition to the gold, a record that is unmatched in this year’s Series.
“We always go tournament by tournament, mainly focusing on our system of attack or defence, or ourselves as a team,” Moneta explained.
“We have an objective of growing as a team, technically, physically, mentally. I think the consistency of all the tournaments, the medals, is because of that.”
Moneta has been a key figure in the rise of Santiago Cora’s side.
The 22-year-old’s combination of flashy footwork and blistering pace have made him a nightmare for opposition defences, with the Argentina star scoring 32 tries this season; only Ireland’s Terry Kennedy (39) and Australia’s Corey Toole (35) have done better in the men's series.
But Moneta’s kicking game is another of his standout qualities, a skill he explained he honed during his younger years playing as a winger in a different sport.
“As a kid I liked to play football a lot. I played until I was 16,” he said.
“I think as I’m fast, I like kicking and looking for the ball. It’s a great tool, especially in Sevens where there’s a lot of space. If you’ve got a good kick, it’s very useful.
“I grew up watching Franco Sabato and Santiago Cora, our coach, and mainly I use it because of that. I learned from them, and because of my past skills playing football.”
Moneta and his Argentina team-mates have made a habit of making history this season, so the looming Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament is an exciting prospect for this ambitious side.
The event, which takes place every four years and will be staged in Cape Town from 9-11 September, offers this Los Pumas Sevens squad a chance to become legends by winning their country’s first-ever Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
“The World Cup is a great objective, and in the short-term it’s the biggest goal that we have,” said Moneta.
“All these tournaments, and all this preparation, is for the World Cup. In my case it’s going to be my first World Cup so I’m really excited, and most of the team is too. It’s a pretty young team so we’re all excited.”
The future looks bright for Moneta, and Los Pumas Sevens, but he says his main objective is to “enjoy it and have fun on the pitch.”
While he looks unlikely to stop lighting up Sevens Series events any time soon, Moneta does harbour ambitions of making his mark elsewhere by moving into the 15s game.
“It’s going to happen. Now I’m focused on Sevens, but maybe after the Paris Olympics in 2024 it’s going to be a great option. Sevens gives you great tools which help you for 15s,” he said.
Given how quickly and impressively Moneta has risen to the top of the sport, it would take real bravery to bet against him doing the same in the 15s game too.