Wednesday 21 November 2018

New man Ledesma has a tight window to find his feet

Argentina are still playing catch-up as World Cup specialists look to repeat their timing trick in Japan

If the cap fits: Former hooker Mario Ledesma has learned much from Michael Cheika and the Argentina coach is aiming to put it to good use against Ireland on Saturday. Photo: Getty
If the cap fits: Former hooker Mario Ledesma has learned much from Michael Cheika and the Argentina coach is aiming to put it to good use against Ireland on Saturday. Photo: Getty

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

When you play almost all of your games against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, you can expect your win/loss ratio to suffer, but even still the eight wins Argentina have achieved in their 36 games since the 2015 World Cup is a stark statistic to consider.

Strip away their victories over Italy, Georgia, Japan, Chile and Uruguay and they are left with a pair of home wins over South Africa and this year's victory over Australia in the three years since they reached the semi-finals in England.

It wasn't good enough to keep Daniel Hourcade, the man who guided them to that last-four finish, in a job and less than a year out from the World Cup his replacement Mario Ledesma is tasked with repeating the Pumas' traditional trick of timing their run just right having taken over in August.

Having played in four editions of the tournament, former hooker Ledesma was in the coaching box alongside Michael Cheika when Australia overcame Argentina in the 2015 World Cup as his scrum coach.

Cheika managed to reach the final having only taken over in October 2014, now Ledesma is looking to do something similar.

He knows the players intimately after coaching the country's Super Rugby team, Los Jaguares, to the Southern Hemisphere club competition's quarter-finals this season.

Stade Francais tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera has missed the final cut, meaning the squad he has selected for November is drawn from the Buenos Aires-based team, with hard-as-nails flanker Pablo Matera the new captain.

The Pumas won two of their six Rugby Championship games under the new man and went close to beating New Zealand in Nelson, before throwing away a big lead in their final game against Australia in Salta.

Argentina legend Felipe Contepomi played alongside Ledesma for the bulk of his international career, while he coached the Jaguares before moving back to Leinster last summer.

And he said the Pumas are an enigmatic proposition ahead of their visit to Dublin. "I don't really know what they (Ireland) can expect. It's unexpected at the moment," the former out-half said.

"With Argentina, it is a team that is finding their way with new coaches starting to get their style of rugby and on the day they can be very good.

"If they don't get it they can look not that good. Definitely, it will be a very proud team. It is Argentina, a team that comes and tries to play hard.

"But I can't say for sure that you will see this, this and that because the more mature team is Ireland.

"Ireland, you can see, are a mature team. Argentina is maturing. It is learning, more than learning it is trying to get bits and pieces together.

"The advantage, well not advantage, but the head coach of Argentina (Mario) Ledesma has been with most of these guys with the Jaguares for the whole year and you can expect that Jaguares style of rugby.

"Circumstances change, international and Super Rugby are different rugby situations but you can see more of the Jaguares style of rugby has been there through the whole year, through the Rugby Championship."

Irish fans have endured too many bad days at the hands of Los Pumas to take anything for granted against Argentina, who tend to muddle through the period in between World Cups before exploding into life at just the right time.

Ronan O'Gara visited Buenos Aires with the Crusaders earlier this year, managing a narrow win in a high-scoring game against Ledesma's side.

And he refuses to contemplate the idea that Ireland are in for a comfortable evening at the Aviva Stadium.

"Argentina have a good guy in (new Jaguares coach, Gonzalo) Quesada - the players will really play for him, and Ledesma is a good guy," O'Gara said.

"You only have to cast your mind back to the Millennium Stadium to have a look at how they dismantled us.

"It wasn't a close game. For a quarter-final, it was dominance from them from the first kick-off to 80 minutes which is very bizarre for the Irish team we're talking about.

"Granted, there was injuries. But, if you're talking about it, it's going to be carnage at the next World Cup, in terms of the collisions.

"So, you don't know who's going to be playing or at what time.

"You could see that they won't throw the towel in. They will play for each other. That's for certain with the Argentinians."

Concerns

One of Ledesma's primary concerns a year out from the tournament is fixing the once-feared Argentina scrum.

If he can get the supply of possession right, there is plenty of threat in a backline that can hurt Ireland in a number of ways.

"Individually they are very strong," Garry Ringrose said.

"Certainly across the back line they have guys that can beat you one-on-one any day of the week, so that will be a huge challenge, the individual battles and defensively because they are so good in attack.

"Their shape is improving year on year. You can see that they are getting to the edge more effectively and they are pretty good at winning the gain line and if you don't match them up front it can be a long day - as they have shown in games just gone."

Ireland beat the Pumas well a year ago, but they left the door open to a strong finish that Joe Schmidt will undoubtedly focus on in the days leading up to the game.

More than anyone, he knows what Argentina can produce when they get their timing right.

Scouting Report: Argentina

The coach

Capped 84 times across four World Cups, Mario Ledesma was a noted scrummager who served as Australia's scrum coach before taking over Super Rugby franchise Los Jaguares. After guiding them to the quarter-finals at the first attempt, he replaced Daniel Hourcade in August.

The captain

At just 25, flanker Pablo Matera assumes the captaincy on the back of amassing 55 caps in a very short time. He will lead from the front.

The veteran

Former skipper Agustin Creevy just signed a new contract and Ledesma will hope he will thrive without the responsibilities of captaincy. He is still an imposing physical presence and a solid set-piece operator.

The danger man

In a backline laced with threats, the broken-field running of winger Ramiro Moyano is something Ireland need to keep a close eye on.

Argentina squad for November: M Alemanno, G Bertranou, E Boffelli, R Bruni, S Cancelliere, S Carreras, A Creevy, T Cubelli, J de la Fuente, B Delguy, J Diaz Bonilla, B Ezcurra, S Garcia Botta, S Girondona, M Kremer, M Landajo, T Lavanini, T Lezana, JC Mallia, P Matera (capt), S Medrano, J Montoya, M Moroni, R Moyano, M Orlando, J Ortega-Desio, G Petti, N Sanchez, L Sordini, M Vivas, JP Zeiss.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport