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Other side: Pumas have grown into a team with bite

By Michael Sadlier

Published 17/10/2015

Danger man: Juan Martin Hernandez of Argentina has the required quality to punish any mistakes from those in green
Danger man: Juan Martin Hernandez of Argentina has the required quality to punish any mistakes from those in green

How times have changed. Not that long ago, any mention of Argentina was accompanied by the usual outpouring of how they only really knew one way to play.

And that involved putting sides on the rack up front by deploying their fearsome pack with a huge emphasis on scrummaging the legs off anyone they met. Aligned to that was what happened if the ball ever left the presence of the eight forwards with the Pumas' tactic here being to simply kick the leather off the thing.

In 2007, this tactic was given new expression by the sight of the sublimely gifted Juan Martin Hernandez - now shifted from out-half to inside centre - launching pinpoint accurate bombs with a wave of blue and white hooped shirts chasing after it and invariably winning it back.

And yes, that tweaking of a familiar approach served them well as the Pumas not only beat host nation France (twice) but also knocked Ireland out and made it as far as the semi-finals before going on to win the barely noticed third-place play-off.

But now, all has utterly altered and their achievement from eight years ago has borne fruit through finally being included in an annual meaningful competition. Argentina are part of the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship and are about to launch a Super Rugby franchise.

And with all that there has been accompanying reform in the way they play.

Their shock victory over South Africa, and in Durban too, during last summer's Rugby Championship certainly turned heads before Japan's moment at this World Cup.

So, the grinding game has gone. Well, maybe not entirely as we were reminded this week by prop Marcos Ayerza that, when it comes down to it, the Pumas would still like nothing better than taking Ireland's scrum apart.

Still, they now primarily aim to play a much more mobile game with coach Daniel Hourcade wanting his side to off-load into space and the backline - though missing the suspended Marcelo Bosch - not just there to either chase high balls or knock opponents down.

They have evolved and if evidence were ever needed that the Pumas have made significant strides then it was seen in the performance produced in their first World Cup pool game with the All Blacks where the holders had to battle hard to win.

Argentina were in New Zealand's faces from the off, finding attacking angles with players running close-in support trails to hit space. It was impressive stuff even though they lost.

Their breakdown skills, with Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to the fore, and ability to attack off turnover ball and make gain-line busts are top drawer which, in turn, create space for the dangerous Juan Imhoff to work off.

And if that doesn't necessarily go to plan then they can revert to a far tighter game if necessary, something more familiar to those who witnessed them put Ireland out of the 1999 and 2007 competitions.

However Argentina go about their business tomorrow, they look ready to go the distance and battle toe-to-toe.

It will probably be another brutal affair but the Pumas - doubtless with Diego Maradona excitedly looking on - certainly possess the belief that they can trip Ireland up again.

Belfast Telegraph

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