Tuesday 20 August 2019

'We prefer the type of game that Ireland play' - Matera reckons Irish game-plan plays into Pumas' hands

Malcolm O’Kelly and Johnny O’Connor try to stop the progress of an Argentinian maul during the feisty clash between the pair in 2004. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Malcolm O’Kelly and Johnny O’Connor try to stop the progress of an Argentinian maul during the feisty clash between the pair in 2004. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

A wry smile spreads across Pablo Matera's face when he is asked why Argentina so often seem to have the edge over Ireland in World Cup meetings.

The Pumas have a knack for luring opposition teams into a massively forward-orientated battle before unleashing their firepower in the backline.

Ireland and Argentina have played out some memorable titanic tussles down through the years, and while the combat has often overstepped the legal boundaries, attempting to beat up the Pumas doesn't always end well.

In the build-up to Ireland's crushing defeat two years ago, Joe Schmidt had stressed that Argentina were going to come haring out of the traps, but his side were powerless to stop it.

Matera typified their brutally physical approach that day. The former Leicester flanker was hugely abrasive at the breakdown and set the platform for another famous victory for his side.

"We lost the physical battle and allowed them to bully us up front, which is massively disappointing," Iain Henderson summarised afterwards.

Argentina have never won in their seven visits to Ireland, a record that they want to end this weekend, but they won't get too caught up if they are handed an eighth defeat.

The World Cup is ultimately their aim. End-of-season Tests are mere stepping stones along the way.

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Ireland may be unbeaten against Argentina on home soil but a 3-1 deficit in World Cup meetings illustrates where the power lies when it matters most.

"We are used to the type of game that Ireland play," Matera says. "They have a really physical game and I think we prefer that to maybe a team like Australia, who play from everywhere around the field.

I think Ireland are a little more tidy. They play more territory and a more strategic game. We are more used to playing against those kind of teams than maybe others."

Ireland's physicality has been talked about by the Argentinian camp all week, almost in the same vein that theirs was in Cardiff two years ago.

Pablo Matera. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Pablo Matera. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Winning the battle up front is one thing, but as Ireland have found all too often to their detriment, it's what the Pumas can do out wide that can hurt them most.

In the teams' meeting at Lansdowne Road in 2004, tempers flared both during and after the game. Ireland were furious as they believed several of their players were eye-gouged, but Argentina brushed it off.

"Asking for yellow cards, asking for penalties and crying for 40 minutes, I think the Irish are better than that," former scrum-half and current vice-chairman of World Rugby Agustín Pichot said.

The Pumas are ready to fight fire with fire with Ireland again this weekend, and although they are unlikely to pose the same kind of threat that they did during the World Cup, it will be fascinating to see if Schmidt and his players have learned their lesson from two years ago.

"I think we have a good balance between the two - the physical game and more like the speed game with the ball," Matera warns, ominously.

"First we were just a physical team, but nowadays playing Super Rugby and since 2015, we have been trying to change the way we play - trying to play different rugby, and now we are in the middle of that having a good balance.

"We still try and improve a lot of things in our game but we try to keep those good things that we made in the World Cup.

"It's difficult because we are trying to learn a lot of new things but we always try to remember those kind of things and keep it in our game."

Motivation will not be in short supply; there are enough painful memories to dredge up, from the horror show that was the 14-man lineout in Lens, to crashing out in Paris at the 2007 World Cup, but Schmidt won't have to delve too deep into the memory bank as the hurt of 2015 still lingers.

"Ireland are a really complete team that has been improving in the last year," Matera adds.

"They are really powerful now and a really complete team. They have a great defence, great scrum, lineout and a lot of options in attack so they are a really difficult team to play against.

"We have been watching a lot of Ireland and it's impossible to know what their options in attack are. They are really unpredictable.

"I think they are one of the best teams in the world nowadays and maybe one of the only teams that can beat New Zealand, England. We really respect them."

Yet, if history has taught us anything, it is that all respect will be put to the side for 80 minutes on Saturday, as Argentina look to leave Ireland with many more sleepless nights.


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