Contepomi confident 'new' Argentina can make history in Dublin
IT'S Argentina, but not as you know it. Brawn has now been matched with brain and after a first stint in the Rugby Championship they are more than ready for the challenge at the Aviva Stadium.
That they have never won in Dublin is extra motivation but, according to injured superstar Felipe Contepomi, this Argentina side is devoid of previous insecurities and frailties and will be ready to play on Saturday.
"It will, of course, be very bruising up front as always. But as Argentina showed against Wales, this team is just as impressive in their expansive game," said Contepomi (below).
"Involvement in the Rugby Championship has helped this team develop and grow. For previous tours we might not have played a Test for six months before facing Ireland but now we are just three weeks out from the Championship.
"The team is used to playing together and will see this as a great opportunity to achieve something no other Argentina team has – win in Dublin."
Contepomi will not be available for Argentina as the former Leinster playmaker tore his medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in the win over Wales but he is likely to be in attendance on Saturday as a spectator.
"I have a six to eight-week period of immobilising the leg and then building back up the strength in it. I am looking at, hopefully, being back playing in three months time if the rehab goes well."
Tests between Ireland and Argentina have usually been fractious affairs, but Contepomi doesn't believe the bad-blood will be too relevant this time around.
"The tension in the previous games was because there was always so much at stake. They were usually World Cup games and players were never going to take a step back. But a lot of those players have retired," he said.
"This is a new Argentina side and, for the most part, a new Ireland side. I don't expect there will be much spill-over from previous games."
Nobody is more knowledgeable about Irish rugby than Contepomi, whose time with Leinster established him as one of the most influential players in Ireland. He ranked right up there in importance for Leinster with midfield partners Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
"Argentina hugely respect Irish rugby. You look at how Leinster and Munster have dominated Europe and of course you respect what they have achieved and are still achieving.
"Ireland are going through a little transitional period but have great young players coming through. And this takes time. Argentina experienced this after the last World Cup, when we won only two games from 14.
"Obviously they are going to miss players of the quality of O'Driscoll, Kearney and O'Connell but their absence gives other players a chance to make their mark and, perhaps, make a name for themselves.
"That's the nature of sport. When one name is missing it provides opportunity for another."
The respect for Ireland is genuine but Contepomi believes Argentina will be more concerned with managing their own performance than worrying about what Ireland might spring.
"Argentina will concentrate on what we do well, look to build on our games against Wales and France and hopefully record our first win in Dublin.
"This new generation of Argentina player is really coming together nicely and hopefully we will see something special from the two teams."