Saturday 22 October 2016

Marcos Ayerza putting Irish heritage to one side

Published 16/10/2015 | 00:16

Marcos Ayerza, pictured, believes Argentina can catch Ireland out at the scrum in Sunday's World Cup quarter-final
Marcos Ayerza, pictured, believes Argentina can catch Ireland out at the scrum in Sunday's World Cup quarter-final

Part-Irishman and accomplished polo player Marcos Ayerza is itching to take down the land of his forefathers with Argentina's secret scrummaging weapon.

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Leicester's Ayerza named a horse Welford Road at his family's famous Haras Agua Rensa stud, but however ungainly the 18 stone front-rower may appear in the saddle, the 32-year-old is no mug at the set-piece.

The World Cup's premier loosehead has excelled at the scrum in tandem with hooker Agustin Creevy - and all because Argentina have restored their fabled "Bajada" set-piece system.

Ayerza revealed his great great grandfather as hailing from Ireland, then quickly set about pinpointing Argentina's route to victory in Sunday's World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff.

"Horses and horse racing, it's huge in my family, it started from my grandfather," said Ayerza.

"My father and myself have some horses back in Argentina in our farm over there, the stud and yes I do have a horse called Welford Road.

"Of course I'm one-sixteenth Irish as well: my great great grandfather was David O'Connor, who came from Ireland.

"There's a big tradition of Irish people in Argentina. Horses are part of that too, and plenty of horses from Coolmore come over to Argentina for the season over there.

"Our links with Ireland are always very strong. We have similar ways of thinking and doing things.

"Playing against Ireland has great pride for my family. My grandmother, she passed away, but she was proud of me playing against Ireland - her grandfather was Irish and she loved the country.

"When I have time in the off-season I try to ride still and play polo for fun - I know I'm bigger than the average jockey!"

Francisco Ocampo pioneered the "Bajada" method in the 1960s, locks binding round props' hips and pinning the scrum shape inwards on the hooker.

The San Isidro club had such success with the unorthodox technique that the Pumas carried the idea through the ranks, excelling with their scrum at Test level.

Most modern-day locks would sneer at binding round props' hips as opposed to through the legs, but somehow the Pumas have pulled off a scrummaging masterstroke.

Ayerza has immersed himself in Leicester life over the last nine years, hence his homage to the Welford Road ground with his horse back home.

The dependable and technically savvy front-rower knows how to pack down in perhaps every imaginable way, but admitted Argentina's restoration of that sixties trick still has the ability to catch opponents on the hop.

Argentina have added serious counter-attacking zeal and an extra dimension of flair in recent years, but Ayerza vowed the Pumas are not about to overlook traditional pack power.

"A long time ago that scrum originated in the San Isidro club; they used to have one of the best sides and they were the first to use the coordinated push.

"That was a way of attack and it was taken to the Pumas.

"Since then it became this Bajada, which means to go locked - low and then forward.

"That was the first move of putting us as a name in the world.

"Argentina have always tried to be a force there and we love the scrum.

"We love to test ourselves and we don't like to have to be putting the ball in and straight out for the backs to attack.

"We want to really compete and test ourselves that we have a proper contest.

"I like to dominate the scrum if possible. Ireland have been very clinical, very good and tidy there. We're planning to really take it to them.

"It's an area we have respect for, they have an experienced front-row and forward pack.

"Their front-row has played many times together and are capable of a good, solid scrum.

"Having said that, we still want to have a battle up front."

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