Monday 5 December 2016

'Speedy Gonzalez' in race to prove his worth at Thomond

Pumas World Cup star Amorosino eager to make a long-term impact on his short-term deal

Published 12/12/2015 | 02:30

Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino at a Munster training session
Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino at a Munster training session

"Es un desafío para mi, es un desafio a todos nosotros."

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It is a challenge for me, it is a challenge for us all.

Given what Argentina did to Ireland at the World Cup, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino was braced for a frosty reception when he turned up for his first Munster training session, but his new team-mates could not have been more welcoming.

"No, they were very polite," smiles the 30-year-old, the only unused substitute in the Pumas' thundering 43-20 Cardiff coup. "Anyway, I told them I had played Ireland three times and lost. They said why couldn't you choose another time to beat us!"

In dousing Irish myopia with a broader vision, Argentina perhaps paved the path of how the sport should really be played in this country in order for it to re-engage with a slowly evaporating domestic audience, as well as reducing the possibility of car crash injury.

Amorosino and his band of merry warriors still brought brute strength to the party - as Ireland's underwhelming back-row effort combined with passive line-speed revealed in that disappointing quarter-final defeat.

But they also sought an eye for a gap, a soft shoulder; instead of trying to batter down seemingly impassable doors, they allowed themselves some time and ingenuity to ascertain whether or not there might be a key.

"It is a different culture here but you can change," says the Buenos Aires-born player, the only former Leicester player in Munster's match-day squad.

"I listen to Mike Brown and I heard he wants to say he wants to play like New Zealand and play more with the ball. But first of all you need to work on your skills.

"Anyone can choose what they want, nobody has the correct recipe. We copied Australia and New Zealand because we think that is the best way to go about it."

Ireland must soon face a similar dilemma: bash their way to Six Nations pre-eminence or seek the road less travelled towards world dominance; it is no coincidence that more favour Argentina, rather than Ireland, to win the next World Cup.

Encouragement

"It has been the best option for us to play the ball as quickly as possible. It's also the best for us, it's how we think. It helped that we got some encouragement by winning a couple of games in the Rugby Championship. We will keep working that way in the future because for us it is the best option," says Amorosino.

As the Pumas bid to maintain that momentum, a new Super Rugby franchise will centralise their best players in top-class competition from 2016; Amorosino wants to be there but polite diplomacy couches his ambition.

He chose Munster as the final destination on a European career that has, aside from this evening's visitors, also embraced Cardiff and Montpellier - "this will be my European retirement".

When he bids farewell is, as yet, uncertain.

"I don't know yet, I have to speak with the Argentina coach," he confides. "My mind is on the contract here until the end of January.

"It is hard for us to play in Europe because you can't play for your country any more. They respect my decision to play here and I will meet with them in two months. That is good for me. I'm only thinking rugby and then I can decide. There is no pressure from Munster either.

"The next block of games is really important for this club, these six weeks with Leinster and Ulster and the European games, they will tell a lot about how this club will do this season. But that won't reflect my decision. I will do as much as I can every day to help them and when the time comes to make a decision, I will make a decision."

The only place he likes to rush is on the field; little wonder they nicknamed him 'Speedy'; at the 2011 World Cup, the one-time Sevens exponent was the second most potent line-breaker (22) and scored a stunning try against Scotland.

His European career has been mixed, though; despite six tries in his first 11 games for Leicester, he was eventually farmed out to the Top 14, featuring for Oyonnax and Montpellier.

Those who watched him when he then linked up with Cardiff were, mostly, unimpressed but then most players at Cardiff have been unimpressive in recent years. Some Munster fans would prefer to see a home-grown talent like Ronan O'Mahoney in the squad.

After butchering a try-scoring opportunity against Dragons last weekend - Simon Zebo still seethed on Tuesday when recalling it, Amorosino still apologised profusely - he is eager to show the faithful he can deliver.

"Being at Munster for me is a huge desafio (challenge) for me, that is what we say in Spanish," he says. "I could have gone to two French clubs but Munster are one of the top five clubs in Europe.

"It is a challenge for me but it is a challenge for us all. The atmosphere is really good here, the supporters really know their rugby. I think it's a strong playing group, everyone wants to play but we had 40 players training this week so it's hard for everyone to be happy every week.

"But there is a respect in training because of that, everyone is working towards the same goal. The boys who aren't in the team are working hard for those that are in the team. That is the most important aspect of the squad, we have that respect."

He will be motivated to shine against Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill, who swiftly disposed of him following a lengthy absence with a leg injury; so too Geordan Murphy, the former Ireland full-back who kept him out of the team.

"I know Leicester Tigers are going to be tough opponents. I know Geordan, I played with Aaron Mauger (the new head coach) and he has given a different aspect to the team.

Touch

"They are playing more ball and they pass the ball more than anyone else. It is the New Zealand touch in the team, they are no longer just scrum and maul and lineout.

"We know that to qualify, we need to win all the matches at home and then a couple away. It's pressure. When you're in big clubs like that, you feel that pressure every day, every session, every match. If you can't handle that pressure, you can't play.

"We lost two easy tries against Dragons, I lost one of them and if we score one of them it's a different game. At least we had the opportunities. We're carrying well in the forwards so there will be chances.

"There's a good mix now, we're an ensemble. I hope we can explode into the field this week and I really think there can be a big future for this team.

"It is important for me to wear this jersey and do well."

Try and stop him.

Irish Independent

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