Sunday 25 February 2018

'Every time we see each other again we are thinking about the last time'

Argentina centre Tiesi is preparing for another physical test against Ireland

David Kelly

David Kelly

When the Pumas hit town, it's normally time to play one of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western film scores to set the scene for some argy bargy. Not any more, if the genial Stade Francais centre Gonzalo Tiesi is to be believed.

"I think inside the pitch it has been very tough to win the games and it will be the same in the future," says the 25-year-old, who played for Harlequins against Leinster two seasons ago on a day of ignominy when blood, or rather the absence of it, provoked so much outrage.

"It will remain tough and aggressive but within the laws of the game. We have built up a rivalry with Ireland but we have the same against France, maybe because they're teams we've played a lot in the last few years.

"Every time we see each other again maybe we are thinking about the last time or what's going to happen in the future. But we are just focused on Sunday. We are finishing the tour, we are building up our game and that's what we need to focus on."


Argentina have never won in Ireland; the reverse is also true, while their relationship at the last three World Cups has served as a barometer of Ireland's fortunes, from ignominy to respectability and back again.

Argentina did better at the last World Cup than the All Blacks -- not to mention dismal Ireland -- so one may expect a little bitterness as last week's obsession with the all-conquering visitors is replaced by comparative ennui.

Most sports fans would discreetly draw the curtains if this fixture took place in their back garden; certainly, the tie two years ago was dour and, with Argentina struggling to readjust to rugby's new order, we can expect a characteristically negative display from the visitors.

Familiarity has bred much contempt.

"Maybe our game is not -- how would you say -- good to look at, or entertaining," offers Tiesi.

"But it is effective. We have a style of game that's maybe hard to play against. We don't have the best effect with the ball in hand but we work hard in defence, we try to slow the ball up.

"Maybe we play in a way that Ireland aren't used to when they play in the Six Nations. We know our strengths and we know our limitations, and we try to play our game. Sometimes, I think, it is hard for them to play against Argentina."

So it seems Argentina haven't shifted much since Juan Martin Hernandez -- sadly absent -- and former Leinster hero Felipe Contepomi relied upon a pack of gnarled forwards to kick their way to third in the world. The game has moved on and Argentina, destined to play in the Tri-Nations two years from now, are struggling to keep track.

"We're still building up our game plan for Sunday," Tiesi, whose side lost 15-9 to France in a kicking duel in Montpellier last Saturday, offers cautiously. "But you want to play with the ball in every game.

"In the second half, the condition of the pitch wasn't the best but if you look at the way we played, it was more ambitious. We had the pressure of being down on the scoreboard but we played a lot more.

"We realised that we had the means to do it and also that, when we are more ambitious, we are going to put teams under pressure -- and put ourselves in position to win games."

Ireland's intensely claustrophobic relationship with the South Americans now extends to the world rankings; Declan Kidney's side are marginally ahead at No 7, a far cry from the recent past when both sides enjoyed brief spells amongst the globe's top three nations.

"First of all, I don't like to look at the rankings that much. Over two to three years, the teams change a lot," says Tiesi, who will be facing Ireland for the first time in his 28-Test career on Sunday -- injury ruled him out in '08, and he was overlooked in the crushing 2007 World Cup victory.

"Over the last five to seven games the teams have played, you can see the respect they have for one another; we have beaten each other a few times but we haven't beaten Ireland since I've been in the team.

"Every time we've played here in Ireland we've lost the game. They're always very tough games. But I think focusing on the games in the past is not the right thing to do.

"We're both thinking about the World Cup. We have to focus on what's going on today, what are our strengths.

"We're looking at Ireland very carefully, they played a very good game against New Zealand even though they lost. They are looking sharp with the ball and in defence, so I think it's going to be a very tough encounter."

It's hard to change the habit of a lifetime.

Irish Independent

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