Weary Argentina aim to finish with flourish

For the Pumas, the end of the season is nigh. And not before time.

Weary Argentina aim to finish with flourish

It’s just a week short of 11 months since the vast majority of the Argentina squad convened for pre-season in their guise as Jaguares Super Rugby players so the lock Guido Petti offers a knowing smirk when it’s suggested that thoughts of beer and beaches must be a risk on Saturday against Ireland.

“Of course we have it in our mind, but we are thinking of this match,” said the imposing 22-year old lock in Dublin. “It’s just one week, the last one for us, so we really want to not just get the result, but play the game well.”

He admits that the squad is tired. Fifty flights and 30 games between club and country will do that to people. It’s half a day to New Zealand, half a day to Australia, too. South Africa is closer but there’s no direct flights from Buenos Aires so they go via Sao Paolo. That takes even longer.

The gruelling nature of a campaign dovetailing Super Rugby and Rugby Championship has only been accentuated by a poor run of results. Just two wins bagged all year. They lost two Tests to a weakened England at home in the summer and none of the SANZAR colours were lowered.

Not just tired, then, but frustrated as well.

“It’s been very tough, maybe some good matches and some not,” said Petti. “The last one against Italy was very good for us, to lift our spirits, and now we hope this game feels good and we continue playing the way we want to.”

Even that win against the Azzurri in Firenze last week was pockmarked with strife. Nerves were apparent and mistakes commonplace and it took two late tries to shunt them past their hosts on an ultimately comfortable scoreline of 31-15.

This is just where the Pumas are at right now, coming off six wins and 23 defeats since the 2015 World Cup, and they pitched up in Ireland with worries over the knee of Juan Martin Hernandez. It will be Thursday before they know if he is okay.

And they are already playing with one hand tied behind their backs.

The policy of picking only those players based in Argentina still stands and, though there is an unofficial acceptance that coach Daniel Hourcade can draft in the odd European-based player should he wish, he has confined his choices to the domestics of late. Those strictures are to be dropped for the 2019 World Cup season and Argentina already have a habit of peaking every four years. Ireland know that only too well having lost 43-20 to the South Americans in a traumatic quarter-final loss in Wales two years ago.

It’s a game Petti recalls as one of the team’s best, alongside wins away to France and South Africa either side of it, but he isn’t placing too much store in it as the tourists look to sign off another marathon run on a high.

“Maybe the team was different. We already know Ireland. They are a very passionate team, very tough.

“They like playing a lot on the line and in the scrums with the forwards, so it is going to be a very tough game. It’s the one that dominates physically is the one that is going to take it.”

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