Sunday 25 August 2019

Alan Quinlan: I'll never forget the shock and disappointment in the dressing room. We were expected to win

Argentina are certain to bring physicality to the table this evening and, while they might lack the quality of previous Puma outfits, if they get confidence and momentum early on, they can hurt you - as Ireland know too well

20 October 1999; Matt Mostyn, Ireland, dejected at the final whistlle after defeat to Argentina. Rugby World Cup, Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens, France. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
20 October 1999; Matt Mostyn, Ireland, dejected at the final whistlle after defeat to Argentina. Rugby World Cup, Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens, France. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

Eddie calls me aside. My heart is beating that bit faster, palms sweating. The team announcement had been delayed by a day. Tensions were already running high and that was before we knocked lumps out of each other in Monday's training session.

There is something about playing Argentina that raises the intensity levels a notch but for me personally, this one was even more important.

Four years earlier, I had been a late call-up to the World Cup squad and sat in the stands as Argentina dumped us out on that horrendous day in Lens.

I'll never forget the shock and disappointment in the dressing room afterwards. It wasn't that we had underestimated them but we were expected to win.

My World Cup lasted five or six days. I didn't want to be remembered by that so when 2003 came around, and Eddie had a quiet word with me and said that I was starting, I felt a whole new air of confidence.

I had trained well on the Monday. Those physical sessions always suited me but when I looked around at the competition for back-row places, I knew it was going to be a close call.

We had Axel, Victor Costello, Keith Gleeson, Simon Easterby, Eric Miller and myself. Wally was someone who I had huge admiration and respect for, but he was sitting back at home in Limerick. I was pinching myself to have made the squad in the first place but I knew I was ready. Everybody was fit, but I felt that this was my time.

Our backs were against the wall; win or bust. The pressure leading into the game was something I had never really experienced before. Memories of 1999 still lingered both for the squad and the supporters.

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The Pumas were arguably a better team at that stage. They had built a fair bit of momentum up from four years earlier. A lot of their top players were playing in France and we were regularly coming up against them in the Heineken Cup.

That said, we had a pretty good team ourselves. Woody was captain, Drico and Paulie were there. A lot of experience which meant that there was a certain level of expectation.

Eddie giving me the nod lifted me but I'm there thinking, 'Jesus, this is even more pressure and responsibility on me now.'

I don't want to be on the team that loses to Argentina again. I had seen what happened four years ago. The reaction and the fallout was ugly. Was I going to be able to cope with that?

It's a constant mental battle with yourself but I was hungry. I wanted to be more than just part of the fringes of a World Cup squad. It never suited me watching from afar.

I wanted to be in the thick of it. I fed off the aggression and going toe-to-toe with fellas was my style. Playing Argentina gave you all of that and more. They bring a different kind of competitive streak than most teams do. There is a real edge to them, maybe it's the Latin blood. They don't fear anyone.

Mike Ford, our defence coach, was constantly hammering home the need to be physical, the need to be aggressive and set the tone early on. Music to my ears. We are all feeling the pressure but it's a great place to be. Above all, I am incredibly excited to be involved in such a big game. Now, I need to go and repay Eddie's faith in me.

By now, everyone knows what happens next. My shoulder goes and with it, so does my World Cup dream. Such is life.

The players this week will feel all sorts of pressure and while it won't be on the same scale as it would be for a World Cup, there is a lot at sake here.

Joe Schmidt will want to finish the November series on a high, not only to carry the momentum into the Six Nations but also to help banish some of those painful memories from two years ago.

That defeat still hurts and I like Joe's honesty around that. I like the fact that he isn't shying away from it. He went on 'The Late Late Show' a couple of weeks later and spoke about the pain and as a nation, it was very much shared.

However, you only get revenge at a World Cup and all this talk this week of today's game being a 'revenge mission' is complete nonsense.

Argentina had an outstanding team at the last World Cup, which wasn't a surprise. Maybe in 1999, we were caught on the hop by them but the days of taking them lightly are long gone.

They always seem to galvanise themselves for the big occasions and they will look at this as an important game for them, particularly on the back of some disappointing results this year.

Their flanker Pablo Matera said it earlier this week, Argentina are looking at this evening's game as the biggest of their tour. Building on last week's win over Italy and chasing their first victory on Irish soil is important to them.

There is always extra bite when we play the Pumas and I suspect today will be no different. When I think back to the game in 2004 when we beat them in Dublin, there was a fair bit of needle both on and off the pitch.

I came off the bench that day and it was ferocious. There was a lot of late tackles and nasty stuff going on off the ball.

The Argentinians were pissed off with ROG. He had scored a drop-goal and afterwards did a bit of a heel flick, as he does, and that riled them up to no end. That was when the whole ROG/Contepomi rivalry really ignited.

If Argentina get confidence and momentum early on, they can rip you to shreds. We don't have to look too far back to see evidence of that. They are outstanding rugby players when they get going.

The difference with their team now is that maybe they don't have that same flood of experience from 1-15 but all of their focus is on building towards Japan in two years. Make no mistake about it.

If you lose the confrontational battle with Argentina, you're under pressure from the off. We allowed them to bully us in 2015. Everyone but the Pumas seemed to be surprised about the manner of their brilliant performance.

They dominated us at the breakdown and we were quite naive in our defending in the wider channels. I can't see Ireland making the same mistakes this evening.

But also, I don't expect anything like the same challenge from Argentina, especially considering that they have had to take over 50 long-haul flights this season, which I read their head coach saying had amounted to 186,000km.

Crazy stuff and when you take all of that into account, what they are achieving is phenomenal really.

I've been impressed by what I have seen from Ireland this month and they will know that Argentina will throw everything at them.

For all of the positives from Ireland's two performances so far this month, they can be undone by a poor showing this evening, particularly because it's a long wait to put it right in Paris on February 3.

They have more than enough quality to get the job done however and I fully expect them to do so. I am fascinated to see how James Ryan goes in the engine room. This guy has a really bright future ahead of him.

Just like we did in 2003, Ireland will feel like they owe Argentina one until they get another crack at them in a World Cup, but a win here can certainly help ease the painful memories from two years ago.

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