Ronan O’Gara looks forward to what promises to be an exciting weekend of rugby action and warns that Ireland should not underestimate Argentina who, he suggests, are playing better than ever before.
Let’s make no bones about this, Argentina are a good team. Ireland’s quarter-final opponents are playing at a tempo the Pumas have never played before.
You want to be facing a big dog or a terrier that just won’t let go? How about a crossbreed? That’s what is staring across the halfway line at Ireland on Sunday.
Let’s make no bones about this, Argentina are a good team. Ireland’s quarter-final opponents are playing at a tempo the Pumas have never played at before. The old Argentina were a team that kicked and applied pressure but they didn’t have the right personnel. Now they have the right half-backs and creative elements to play a high-tempo game.
Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez is like a little Ian Madigan at 10 and outside him at 12 is an absolute genius in Juan Martin Hernandez. I’ve written before here that I’ve never seen a person more natural with a rugby ball as Hernandez. To watch this guy train as I did for a year at Racing Metro is an absolute joy, it’s why you get involved in sport, just to see how beautiful he makes the game look. He can do things with a rugby ball beyond virtually anybody else and in tandem with Sanchez they can be a real handful for Ireland, playmakers with the ability to unleash those backs out wide.
They will miss Marcelo Bosch. Like Sean O’Brien, the centre is suspended, and his absence will be a big loss to the Pumas because he’s a really consistent performer for Saracens and his country. I saw him knock over a 53-metre penalty against us in the Champions Cup quarter-final last season and it was a real measure of the fella’s capabilities on a ground he’d never played on before — Colombes is not the easiest ground to kick on.
That aside, Argentina have some very good players available and importantly they have plenty of confidence. Where did they get that? Before the summer people were thinking they were brutal but you have to look at that win over South Africa in Durban during the Rugby Championship and in their performance against New Zealand at Wembley last month in the pool stages. New Zealand played very well that day and won but Argentina played excellently as well in a great rugby match.
Argentina still have that power about them also, not least in a formidable back row.
At Racing we had Tomas Lavanini with us last year and he was around 120kg of pure muscle, an unbelievable rugby player who’s still only 22. He’s hugely destructive at ruck time and he’s going to do damage on Sunday. You just hope from Ireland’s point of view that he does damage without having discipline but wait until you see him, this guy’s a human wrecking ball.
To have him alongside the likes of Leonardo Senatore and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe at the breakdown could spell trouble for Ireland.
Lobbe deserves special mention. His consistency is impressive and he’s an intelligent player too. He’s been doing it year in, year out for Argentina and always excelled and for Toulon he’s been a revelation, a fantastic rugby player.
So it’s not just work rate and pride that they have, don’t make that mistake. They’re flush with class as well and are very capable of playing rugby, as many of their tries in this World Cup underline. Since they lost 26-16 to the All Blacks they’ve put 54 points on Georgia, 45 past Tonga and 64 aganst Namibia. This is a team that used to kick penalties, a couple of drop goals and maybe one try, now you have to respect their ability to score and it’s going to be a real test for Ireland.
Ireland’s defence is a massive strong point under Les Kiss, who’s been in the background for eight years now and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
They kept France tryless last weekend, the French never looked liked scoring and that should give Ireland confidence because they are going to be tested this weekend with quickly taken free-kicks and the like from Argentina.
The one huge unknown is Argentina’s temperament and that’s why I’m cautious. Ireland could win convincingly but if it clicks for the Pumas...
I’m only beginning to understand the Latin temperament from having spent a bit of time here in Paris but if the confidence comes you see a performance grow in minutes. What happens in an Irish side, I think, is it takes months to develop confidence, but it’s fascinating here to see offloads come off and the smiles break out and that makes them deadly dangerous.
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