Beware the pride of Pumas
Never underestimate the pride of the Pumas. That was the warning to Ireland on Thursday night from New Zealander Vern Cotter, one of Europe's top rugby coaches.
Cotter steered Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne to the French championship title back in May and is now plotting tactics ahead of the two crucial Heineken Cup games against Leinster next month.
And with Argentina players such as Mario Ledesma and Martin Scelzo in his club squad, Cotter well understands the psychology of the Argentina players. With that in mind, he suggests that Declan Kidney's men would be well advised not to think, even subconsciously, that tomorrow's Test match against the Pumas at Lansdowne Road will be a step down from the intensity of the New Zealand game last weekend.
"I expect Argentina to be as aggressive as they always are when they come together to play a Test match. When these players meet up, there's always some special feeling created among them, based on their pride in wearing the Pumas jersey," Cotter said.
"I have seen this from close range at Clermont. Mario Ledesma, our hooker, is a hugely professional player, a very impressive man. He's a real competitor and he galvanises those around him. With the youngsters, he goes out of his way to underline the values that are at the heart of Pumas' rugby.
"Mario is very smart regarding the way he goes about his business. He's a very good professional who really looks after himself. He's now close to 38 but remains an impressive player. That is because of his attitude."
He added: "He's also a good tactician on the paddock and he says things clearly. He organises people around him and is someone who has tried to pass on to the new players in the squad what it is to be an Argentina international player. It is because of that, they always lift their level."
Yet Argentinian rugby is in a state of transition. While those like Ledesma, Scelzo and Rodrigo Roncero, the grizzled, veteran front-row men are all well into their 30s, others are still learning the international game. Gaps have still to be filled.
"They have not really replaced Agustin Pichot as yet and that is one problem for them. He was such a good tactician and leader; he has been a big loss. However, Felipe Contepomi is a clear and obvious danger to Ireland this weekend. I think Felipe will show his brilliance in Dublin this weekend," Cotter said.
"Marcelo Bosch, who plays for Biarritz, will play centre this week from what I hear, and he's a strong player who takes the ball up powerfully. Forwards like Patricio Albecete and Fernandez Lobbe are strong rugby men able to excel in any company.
"I was very surprised that they had scrum problems against both Italy and France. And given that, I hope they will decide to try and expand their game in Dublin, to produce a wider game at times. I certainly believe they are capable of producing that type of rugby, because Contepomi is a fantastic offensive player.
"Ireland must know that the Argentine boys will not have taken kindly to their scrum problems. They will have worked hard on that aspect. But if the Pumas cannot put as much pressure on from a rock-solid scrum base or solidity at the rucks, which has always been the case with them, they will need to look to a wider game.
"So I wouldn't be surprised to see them play more with their backs at Lansdowne Road. Ireland shouldn't be surprised by that either, if it happens.
"Their old, familiar tactics of power in the forwards and physically beating teams up may no longer be enough because the game is changing and moving away from them. So it will be interesting to see if they are more mobile than before."
Cotter admits that the Pumas' wily old ways are still a challenge to their opposition. France came to understand that, having to rely on four penalties and a drop goal to beat them 15-9 last weekend.
"They are hard to manoeuvre around the paddock; that remains the case. They will certainly test Ireland in that respect," he said.
"And with several senior players still there, they won't be beaten easily by anyone. Yet, I think they have potentially an exciting backline and if they choose to use it, they could cause some problems to opponents.
"It will be interesting to see if they're willing to do that against Ireland."