Saturday 24 February 2018

Contepomi to lead Pumas' Lansdowne charge

Hugh Farrelly

FELIPE CONTEPOMI will lead out the Pumas on his return to Lansdowne Road on Sunday, as Argentina coach Santiago Phelan makes three changes to the side that lost 15-9 to France in Montpellier last weekend.

Contepomi was involved in the last match to be played at the old stadium when he came off the bench for Jonathan Sexton in Leinster's 20-12 win over Ulster in December 2006, but it was his Lansdowne Road appearance seven months earlier that everyone remembers.

That was the day the out-half famously imploded as Munster blitzed Leinster in their all-Irish Heineken Cup semi-final clash.

On Sunday, the Toulon man will be looking for a more authoritative display, as he captains a powerful Argentinian side which features a host of experienced forwards, including a front-row of Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma and Martin Scelzo that boasts an average age of just under 35 and who will be starting their 16th match together.

Leicester's Horacio Agulla comes on to the right wing in place of Gonzalo Comacho, Biarritz's Marcelo Bosch claims the inside-centre slot from Santiago Fernandez and flanker Julio Farias Cabello replaces Miguel de Achaval.

Leinster's Mariano Galarza continues in the second-row next to Toulouse's Patrique Albacete -- one of the finest second-rows in world rugby and a player who has enjoyed several productive experiences against Ireland. Another name well-known to Irish rugby fans is No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, once of Sale, now Toulon.

Galarza is an interesting case. Brought into the Leinster squad at the start of the season as cover for their then-injured captain Leo Cullen, the second-row has only played 63 minutes for the province this season -- comprising four appearances off the bench, all in September, against Glasgow, Cardiff, Treviso and Edinburgh.

Although yet to make his mark with Leinster, Galarza started in the win over Italy on November 13 and was part of a committed forward effort against the French. The Pumas do not tend to pick mugs in their tight-five forwards and Galarza will have plenty to prove on Sunday and is certain to draw on the experience and all-round excellence of Albacete alongside him.

While Argentina's strength unquestionably lies up front, their backline, Contepomi aside, is more functional than flamboyant. Bosch is a strong ball-carrier in midfield and his Stade Francais partner Gonzalo Tiesi is capable of exploiting gaps in the defensive line.

However, they are not in the same class, attacking-wise, as Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy and if Ireland can establish a forward platform they have the backline to do damage out wide -- as they showed against the All Blacks last weekend.

There is strength on the Argentinian bench also, notably in the presence of Tigers prop Marcus Ayerza -- whose introduction will do nothing to weaken the power of the Puma scrum -- while Irish supporters will remember 30-cap winger Lucas Borges for the try he scored in the pool game that dumped Ireland out of the 2007 World Cup.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney names his side at lunchtime tomorrow when the main focus will be on the composition of his front five, given the need to counter this ultra-physical Argentinian unit.

ARGENTINA (v Ireland) -- M Rodriguez; H Agulla, G Tiesi, M Bosch, L Gonzalez Amorosino; F Contepomi (capt), N Vergallo; R Roncero, M Ledesma, M Scelzo; M Galarza, P Albacete; G Fessia, J Farías Cabello, JM Fernandez Lobbe Reps: A Creevy, M Ayerza, J Figallo, S Guzmán, Á Galindo, A Lalanne, L Borges.

Irish Independent

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