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Boys in green need to repeat display against France to tame Pumas

By Tony Ward

Back in October 1978, 10 days before Munster faced the All Blacks, I went along to Lansdowne Road to watch Leinster take on 'an Argentina XV' as it was then known.

My abiding memory, apart from the Argentinians winning convincingly, was the size and physicality of their pack allied to the power, pace and panache of the backs. It was the latter that left an indelible mark.

That was a top-quality Leinster side that could easily have swapped blue for green and represented Ireland.

This is how they lined out: Frankie Ennis; Terry Kennedy, Paul Andreucetti, Paul McNaughton, Freddie McLennan; Micky Quinn, Johnny Moloney (captain); Philly Orr, Johnny Cantrell, Mick Fitzpatrick; Willie Duggan, Emmet O'Rafferty; Shay Deering, Fergus Slattery, Mike Gibson.

They were expected to romp home but lost 24-13 to the brilliance of the likes of Martin Sansot, Hugo Porta, Marcello Loffreda (later to make an impact as coach) and Alejandro Puccio.

Porta was the one player who came with a big reputation; the remainder were virtual unknowns. Sansot was like a gazelle at full-back.

Argentina played a brand of attacking rugby that we had precious little knowledge about.

Ever since then, I have been on red alert when Ireland meet them.

They are the southern hemisphere's answer to the French; and since beating the host nation twice in the 2007 World Cup, the Pumas have eclipsed Les Bleus when it comes to combining high-tempo forward physicality and backline flair.

When they get it right, it is a lethal cocktail. It is also easy on the eye but that is not the objective. Coach Daniel Hourcade - a former Pumas scrum-half who was assistant coach to Portugal in '07 - plays to his obvious strengths.

Joe Schmidt will leave no stone unturned in attempting to stifle Argentina's mix of pace and power. In Joe the nation trusts, and with good reason.

Of course we will be looking to stop the Pumas playing front-foot rugby, but equally we will be looking to exert our own interpretation of the full-court press that was so effective against the French last time out.

It is a huge ask, but if we don't match last week's levels of accuracy and relentless intensity, we will come second to this opposition.

The French, however poorly they played, were a step up from the Italians, and the Pumas are another rung up the World Cup ladder.

Being part of the Rugby Championship has taken Argentinian rugby to another level again.

We are back-to-back Six Nations champions, but they are now much more comfortable playing the best sides in the world on a regular basis.

Hourcade has overseen a gradual shift to a much more balanced strategy than the Pumas showed when finishing third in 2007.

That Puma blueprint, featuring a lot of kicking, has been built upon strategically ever since.

Argentina's game is built on the solid foundation of lineout, scrum, ruck and maul plus defensive line-speed.

I don't think we are in for a running extravaganza. The record of antipathy between the nations speaks for itself. The Pumas are passionate and so are we.

There are not many household names in the Argentina side, although Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Martin Hernandez are world-class.

With a typically potent pack plus game management of the highest order from Martin Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez, they are a handful for anyone.

Those half-backs lose little in comparison to Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton - and watch for Tomas Cubelli off the bench.

Given the circumstances, Schmidt has put together a formidable 23. The head coach has been planning for day like this.

Of course we will miss Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien, but you can be sure that Iain Henderson (our star turn to date), Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry will give everything in attempting to play the game of their lives.

And while he will not be out there at the heart of the action, O'Connell will have a key role to play in the dressing-room.

If both squads play to their best, Ireland still have the wherewithal to pull off another exercise in strangulation.

If it becomes loose and ragged then the Pumas, unlike the French, have what it takes to hurt us on the counter.

It's 2-1 to the Pumas in World Cup head-to-heads. Can we even it up?

With a repeat of last week, yes.

Belfast Telegraph

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