Argentina prepare to get serious

The car park serving the Vale of Glamorgan report is always awash with cars, but the scope of the place swallows up the many residents and customers. It makes for a relaxing countryside retreat, far from the madding crowd of Cardiff, where Ireland are stationed this week.

Daniel Hourcade’s Argentinian players wander in and out of the lobby. Some are eating off plates as they lope about, most scan their phones or just shoot the breeze. That laidback approach to life this past few days has been apparent in the Morgannwg Suite, too.

Juan Martin Hernandez, Marcos Ayerza and Martin Landajo have all sat down and shot the breeze there with the Irish and British press, asking for questions to be delivered slowly before responding fluently and openly in flowing English.

There have been no sarcastic jibes in the vein of Philippe Saint-Andre and his troops ahead of their meeting with Ireland, nor the cutting barbs preferred by Steve Hansen’s before tonight’s quarter-final against France.

The niceties will dissipate come 1pm tomorrow, but the pre-match preliminaries have been consistently polite and respectful between two teams whose modern relationship has been characterised by spite and bile.

Hourcade’s thoughts on the absence of Paul O’Connell typified it all.

“We know what O’Connell means for Ireland and the other injured players. They have already said that they are going to play for them and we know the Irish passion. We are going to face a team that plays with its heart, like Argentina. It will be a good challenge for both teams.”

It was one of Jonathan Sexton’s former teammates at Racing Metro who spoke of hunting the out-half down before that Pool D decider six days ago, but Hourcade insisted that Argentina were not looking at the Leinster man as a wounded animal ripe for the kill.

“We prepare for Ireland’s best team and Sexton being 100%,” he said.

Argentina prepare to get serious

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, their veteran back row, agreed.

“With the great coach Ireland has at the moment, if he trusts that Sexton is okay to play at 10, it’s because either he’s 10/10 or 9/10. He’s not going to play Sexton in such an important game thinking that he won’t be able to fulfil the 80 minutes.

“For us, of course we are going to focus a lot, not on Sexton because he has an injury, but because he’s the main player on their attack: the way he either plays quick, slow, he kicks, he goes with the dummy.

“He’s a very, very good player and he’s done it a lot of times before. He knows how to play these types of games. For us, as a unit and as 15 guys that are going to be on the pitch, we really need to be aggressive on defence, whoever it is that gets the ball.”

Yet, there is a realisation in the South Americans’ camp that Ireland find themselves on the brink of unchartered territory — a first World Cup semi-final — and that maybe they can look to play on that and turn the scope of the occasion against the Six Nations champions.

With three of their opponents’ preferred starters injured and another suspended, it was put to Lobbe that maybe there was an opportunity to drill some doubt into Irish minds if the Pumas can prove to be as determined and difficult as was the case in their opener against New Zealand.

“In a way, yes, because in these type of games when you lose, you’re out. The most important thing is to be sure of what you’re doing and get control of the game. As soon as you play with a lot of confidence, either in defence or attack, and you start making doubt in the other team, it becomes a little easier.

“The best thing for us will be to just focus on the process, on what we need to do and try to make them doubt. If you doubt, your confidence goes down and you start … maybe instead of throwing the pass, you keep it. All those things that you know in these type of games can be the difference between winning and losing.”

That works the other way, too.

Argentina, with their Super Rugby franchise due to launch early next year and a country looking for them to repeat their 2007 trip to the last four, have much to lose themselves. So, too, Lobbe who calls time on his career after this tournament. It’s all or nothing now. For everyone.

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