The saying down Munster way used to claim that Superman wore Paul O’Connell pyjamas.
Hard to beat, but knowing your Argentina jersey has pride of place in Diego Maradona’s house comes fairly close.
Argentina scrumhalf Martin Landajo revisited the 2015 World Cup as he lounged around the team’s Dublin hotel yesterday evening, just days away from the first meeting of the side’s since the Cardiff clash two years ago.
Then, Joe Schmidt’s men were surely going to end Ireland’s recurring nightmare where they are beaten at the World Cup quarter-final stage, but no — the South Americans, as they had done in 2007, tripped up the Irish.
A 20-10 half-time lead was reeled in by the Irish, only for the Pumas to storm clear and rack up a 43-20 score at the final whistle.
Landajo shrugged off talk of a revenge mission, insisting both sides had put that game behind them, but it didn’t stop him smiling through his recollection of that World Cup experience in England and Wales.
“Maradona came to one of our games and he sent some messages to the team after we beat Ireland and we sent them back,” he said, with childlike glee. “I gave him my jersey in the changing room too.
“People were very happy when we got back to Argentina, kids were joining clubs and rugby was becoming more popular. It happened in 2007, for the first time, when rugby became the second sport in Argentina, but this time it happened again and when we got back people were very happy and rugby was very important.”
Argentina have struggled since the 2015 meeting with Ireland, winning just eight of their 29 tests since. What is about a side who can turn up at the World Cup, then turn off right afterward?
“That’s our history,” Landajo said, “if you go back to our history it happens all the time. Maybe the first two years after the World Cup, we were changing players, not the coaches this time, but lots of the years the coaches changed.
“We have a lot of changes the first two years [of a WC cycle] and when we get near the World Cup, it gets better. We’re used to doing good at World Cups and I hope the same happens again.”
A win over Ireland this Saturday would require a ‘perfect’ performance, he says, but the idea the Irish may be thinking of revenge brought a smile to his face.
“Oh really? They still think about that? I thought they had forgotten that? No, really?” he said.
“I think we don’t have to get into that one, there wouldn’t be much pressure on us. We just want to play the game, have fun.
“Of course we want to win, we’ve never beaten Ireland in Ireland... but I beat them in Cardiff.” This year has been short on victories for Landajo, in Pumas colours and for the Jaguares, the country’s Super Rugby team that is essentially the national team in club colours.
The Jaguares came into being after the 2015 World Cup and may lay the foundation for another World Cup assault in 2019, but as of yet, it’s been a challenge.
“People maybe think, because we are the national team, that we have to be in the finals of Super Rugby, but we know that’s not our great mission,” Landajo said. “The team is growing, and in a couple of years we’ll be even better.
“It is an experiment, we feel like that. But we know it’s necessary.
“We’re playing the best teams in the world every weekend, that’s huge for us. It’s still difficult, we travel a lot, we’re together for the whole year, it’s pretty difficult to be with the same team, the same faces, the same hotels all the year.
“We try to learn from other teams, but we’re the only team in the world who has the same club and national team but with different names.
“It’s new, it’s difficult, but it’s fun too.”
Four wins last year turned into seven wins this year, signaling clear improvement for the Super Rugby rookies.
“Argentina is still growing, it doesn’t have too many professional players, so we have to do this and play in both teams. In future, when rugby grows, maybe we’ll have more teams, like New Zealand does, South Africa does, but we’re not there now, we have to do everything.”
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