Coach wraps Puma stars in cotton wool

ARGENTINA coach Marcelo Loffreda is taking no chances ahead of his team’s crucial Group A ‘decider’ with Ireland at the weekend, opting to leave his top players on the sideline for tomorrow’s clash with the physical Romanians in Sydney.

The South Americans are still furious at their match schedule in this World Cup, which will see them play all their pool matches inside 16 days, and it's because their clash with the Irish comes hot on the heels of tomorrow's potentially bruising encounter with the Oaks, that Loffreda has wrapped his stars in cotton wool.

Captain and scrum-half Augustin Pichot will be donning his track suit when the Romanian clash kicks off, as will Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Quesada, who have been battling for the fly-half spot since the team arrived in Australia.

Contepomi started the tournament opener against Australia but suffered a nightmare with the boot as the team suffered stage fright, while Quesada enjoyed a better time of it in front of goal, against the admittedly weak Namibians in Gosford.

The omission of both, however, had the entire Argentinian press corps shaking their heads in bemusement in Coogee yesterday, with some mumbling about possible ring rustiness for whichever player wins the race for the No 10 jersey on Sunday in Adelaide.

Juan Fernandez Miranda will start at stand off against Romania an honour doubled no doubt by the fact that his brother Nicolas will be his lieutenant at scrum-half but neither sibling will be handed the responsibility from the off against Eddie O'Sullivan's team.

The upshot of course is that O'Sullivan and Declan Kidney will probably have little or no clue as to who the opposition out-half will be at the weekend.

Four of the personnel changes are in the forwards, obviously with an eye on the trench warfare that will develop between the two highly physical packs, as Loffreda's selection policy begins to resemble Claudio Ranieri's more with every game.

Fourteen changes had been made to the team that lost to Australia for the Namibia rout, and now a further six alterations have been served up.

How many of the pack for Wednesday's clash will start against Ireland is another moot point, but Loffreda insists it is the punishing schedule, and the potentially bruising battle against the Romanians that is behind his constant tinkering.

"We know that they are going to be very physical, that their strength is in their forward pack so we know that we will have a strong battle over there," the coach said yesterday.

"That's why we have chosen this team because we have two games in 96 hours. If we had five, six, seven days between games we could do another kind of selection, but we must use our resources as best we can and we think this is the best way.

Loffreda could hardly knock back any questions on Ireland with the old 'taking it one game at a time' mantra, and as it transpired he was more than happy to give his opinion on O'Sullivan's men's progress after two games.

"I thought Ireland were very strong (against Namibia)," he claimed. "They tried to play the same game as we did against Namibia. It was not quite the same but they still managed to score ten tries. Their line-outs are very strong, that's one area where we will have to watch very carefully."

ARGENTINA (V Romania): J. Hernandez, J.M .Nunez Piossek, M. Gaitan, M. Contepomi, H. Senillosa, J. Fernandez Miranda, N. Fernandez Miranda; R. Poncero, M. Ledesma, M. Scelzo, P. Sporleder, P. Albacete, S. Phelan, M. Durand, P. Bouzo.

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