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Ireland v Argentina: Powerful Pumas will push resolve right to its limits

By Michael Sadlier

Batten down the hatches, this will probably get ugly.

There was another international last Saturday night, but this one wasn't top heavy with with dynamic, attacking rugby and half a dozen tries.

Montpellier, in the south of France, provided the venue as France saw off Argentina in a sleep-inducing 15-9 win with all the points scored in the contest arriving courtesy of seven penalties and, just to break things up a bit, one drop goal.

It was dour stuff but then the horribly wet conditions were never going to help matters, nor indeed France coach Marc Lievremont's pre-match insistence that Les Bleus ensured they got one over on the Pumas after his squad had taken beating over in Argentina last June.

As for the Pumas, they are here on the last leg of their tour having hardly been in vintage form and, the previous week, had failed to convincingly put Italy away by just shading matters 22-16 in Verona.

Indeed, impressive full-back Martin Rodriguez’s second-half try against the Azzurri has been the only one they have scored in two test matches.

Hardly a sign that the Pumas are playing with great abandon or fluidity – a not surprising development for a side renowned for their power up front – but, then again, they have also shown themselves typically hard to break down.

They have only conceded one try – a penalty one at that – also in the game against Italy.

Their cause has been weakened by the continuing absence of star player Juan Martin Hernandez who has barely played any rugby over the last year. Still, the Pumas at least have another world class operator to call upon in Felipe Contepomi who will, of course, be returning to Dublin to lock horns with former Leinster team-mates and his avowed foes from Munster.

Contepomi, now at Toulon, is leading the tourists and, thanks to his boot, has been their most prolific scorer.

But, as ever, the main focus of the Puma’s game has been their powerhouse pack.

When France hooker William Servat, said: “The Pumas’ scrum is the global benchmark,” he wasn’t issuing a throwaway statement.

Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma and Martin Scelzo populate a front row that is both respected and feared in equal measure while elsewhere, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is an immense presence in the back row.

The game has certainly changed since they exploded on to the World Cup stage three years ago.

The kick and chase tactics followed by wrap-up tackle which the Pumas perfected – as they easily saw off Ireland and also did for hosts France twice on their way to finishing third – has long gone as an effective stratagem, but their strength up front is still relevant and the nucleus of their approach.

As Ireland know only too well, Argentina’s forward power and in-your-face attitude – the sides have certainly a history – usually make for a deeply uncomfortable 80 minutes every time the Pumas come around.

Belfast Telegraph


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