Thursday 18 January 2018

Pumas primed for Irish battle – Camacho

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IN one sense, Argentina have never been so prepared coming here. And in another, they have never been so vulnerable.

Their accession to the Rugby Championship means the playing field is, finally, level. The six top-class games afforded to them in their inaugural tournament, along with their two outings on this tour, means the Pumas have had more exposure to elite sides than ever before when coming here.

Effectively, but for a short break between the end of the Rugby Championship and the start of this tour, Santiago Phelan's side have been together since early August. It's a completely different scenario from previous visits, when they gathered from the various corners of the rugby world with only the tightest of time frames in which to organise themselves.

However, their hectic schedule also means their coaches and players are on new ground. The Pumas face the challenge of managing their players ahead of what will be their ninth Test since they lost to the Springboks in Cape Town in mid-August.

Throw in the typically bruising encounter against France in Lille just last weekend and the cabin fever that can set in on such a marathon tour (Pumas management were so eager to ensure that Wednesday's rest day would be filled with something suitably distracting that they consulted Irish media for suggestions) and Argentina have considerable obstacles to overcome.

However, there are more positives than negatives for Pumas and Exeter Chiefs wing Gonzalo Camacho, whose face showed the full effects of the weekend's defeat to France.

"The Rugby Championship was very important for the team and for Argentina rugby, which is growing a lot," Camacho said of their first tangle with the southern hemisphere's big three.

"It gives you more experience. Players coming up now can play in the June window and you have more matches. It brings the team together more and you get more time together.

"It was a shame we didn't get a win but we surprised a lot of people."

Graham Henry has departed from his role in the Pumas' back-room team but they still scalped Wales 10 days ago. However, the significance of that win was tempered a little by the same side's defeat at the hands of Samoa.

Even if top-eight status and preferential seeding for the World Cup is at stake for both sides, Saturday's clash is unlikely to reach the levels of nastiness that permeated recent showdowns. On both sides, many of the main characters in those spats are no longer involved.

"With a match like this that has a lot of history with the World Cups of '99 and 2003, it's good that there is an atmosphere of competition, and will to win the game. Maybe it (the rivalry) has gone down a little bit because some players have retired but I think every game you want to win and these games are the ones that you want to bring home.

"We haven't played here since 2010 when we came away with a heavy defeat, so it's good if we give a big performance against them."

The Pumas are unlikely to make wholesale changes to the side that lost to France but star Juan Martin Hernandez remained with the squad this week and they have delayed naming their side until Thursday, which suggests he could play some part.

Irish Independent

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