Argentina. It’s simple really, isn’t it? The Pumas have their powerhouse pack, are not afraid to use it and, oh yes, they’re Ireland’s World Cup nemesis.
Yet the Irish management’s reference points for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final show an Argentina side coached by Daniel Hourcade very different from the standard perceptions and much improved on the second-string outfit they faced in a hard-fought two-Test tour in June 2014.
It is clear from talking to coaches and players this week Argentina’s landmark victory over South Africa in Durban this summer and their strong showing in an opening pool defeat to New Zealand four weeks ago are the yardsticks by which Ireland will judge the Pumas.
Not least because Hourcade’s team were a tough enough prospect when they gave a near full-strength Ireland a proper workout in Argentina when they were missing most of their Europe-based contingent.
Ireland won both Tests but needed 80 minutes to get the job done on both occasions.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them. We played them in Argentina last summer and it took forever, to get to the result, and we don’t expect any different in this game,” defence coach Les Kiss said.
Full-back Rob Kearney was on that tour and played in the second Test, and as much as he remembers the difficulty of those matches he is expecting a more difficult challenge this time around from a nation now benefiting from its annual exposure to the Southern Hemisphere big guns in the Rugby Championship. They’re playing really good rugby. They’ve a side who have benefited a huge amount from playing in the Southern Hemisphere tournament. And every year on year they look a better side. What they did to South Africa in Durban during the summer is a sign of how far they’ve come and how dangerous they can be.
“I think they’re probably a little bit like the France team of the ‘70s and ‘80s, without disrespecting France at all now. I think the (Argentinians) have that carefree rugby and are willing to play and go for it.”
That means Ireland may have to summon one of the great defensive performances of a tournament already noted for some remarkable rearguard actions, and without injured defensive leaders Jared Payne, Peter O’Mahony, captain Paul O’Connell and the suspended Sean O’Brien. Kiss certainly had his work cut out yesterday when Ireland focused on that aspect of their play at Sophia Gardens yesterday.
“I think we got on the front foot at the weekend and forced (France) into an uncomfortable place,” Kiss said. “Maybe we didn’t have a lot of moments where we had to be stoic but we certainly pressured them in our line-speed and how we hunted up and made them force their game. At the moment I don’t think any team is perfect but I think the teams that dig and find something you can really explain is going to make a difference in the big games.
“We build our games together on a lot of trust that is what glues together the technical and tactical approach which we have. They fight for each other, we know there is a responsibility in making the first ups, in delivering there, and if you don’t do it you know there is a team-mate that is going to cover for you. So we build a lot of it on trust .Peter and Paul have always been great for us on our turnover stats in the breakdown area and the set piece. But look from the day I have been here and what I’ve tried to forge in the team is that everyone across the park has the capacity to do some damage around the breakdown and stay on the right side of the law while doing it.
“So you don’t have to look far to see the type of blokes we have in the team that can say ‘I can make a good strong decision here to go for a poach or go to a situation where I can pressurise the ball or get out of there and lead the line’. We try to make that an area of our game that’s a smart one if we can think and react that way. That’s what I guess this tournament is about, building a squad that you can rely on right through to the last man.”
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