Restyled Argentina fired up for final fling
Oozing confidence, enjoying each other’s company as ever and rallying for one final patriotic push for their 12th and final game of their season before their third end-of-year party in five years in Dublin (watch out Dublin!), the notion that Argentina might be a little fatigued was largely dispelled by coach Santiago Phelan last night.
They may be moving into un-chartered territory, but Los Pumas don’t tend to do tired.
Given most of his front-line, European-based players were rested for the June friendlies, Phelan maintained they were in good shape as they target their best performance of the tour.
Talking at their base in the Radisson St Helen’s in Stillorgan, he said he was not concerned that Ireland rested players last week. “Ireland players are fresh because most didn’t play last week. But for us it’s good to be together. We can continue working on what we want to do in every game. The recovery was important this week. We did short sessions and a lot of analysis as it’s our third game and there is a little bit of tiredness. But we have a lot of confidence. We enjoy a lot being together on the field and in the hotel.”
In making a quartet of largely-anticipated changes from the team which lost 39-22 to France last Saturday, Phelan has also reverted to all bar three of the starting team which beat Wales 26-12 a week before, the exceptions tighthead and both midfielders.
The gifted Juan Martin Hernandez returns from injury at fullback, Gonzalo Camacho returns on the right wing and Santiago Fernandez comes in at centre after being part of the weekly rotational policy with their Montpellier contingent. Marcelo Bosch moves to outside centre.
Up front, the 140kg Maximiliano Bustos makes his debut in place of another Montpellier man, Juan Figallo. With foresight, the Pumas had exchanged their Montpellier piliers before Figallo’s citing and three-week suspension.
Phelan was particularly happy to have Hernandez, tormentor in chief of Ireland in the 2007 World Cup pool finale at Parc des Princes, back in harness alongside Camacho and his lethal Racing team-mate Juan Imhoff, whose strike rate is 11 tries in 13 Tests.
“He [Hernandez] is a very important player for us, a leader within the group, a top-quality player and very important for the Argentina team.”
As for developing a different style under his watch, Phelan was a little circumspect. “I don’t know if it’s different style. We always try and add to the team but now we play a different intensity. We weren’t used to playing so many games so now we are trying to get better with the ball, focus more, move it better and be more dynamic. But also, have our strengths. Our scrum, our defence, play with a lot of heart, the main thing Argentina players have.”
‘We don’t have to kick’
Hernandez, who almost reinvented the Garryowen during that 2007 World Cup, expressed the hope “we don’t have to kick a lot” tomorrow and, maintaining the new love-in between the camps – before kick-off – spoke almost fondly of Irish rugby.
“They like to play, run the ball, so I always like to play against them. They have a very good rugby spirit, passing the ball and keeping it moving so they are always good games.”
He was more forthcoming on Argentina’s changed approach.
“As soon as we were involved in the Rugby Championship, the coaches knew an evolution had to happen, with a lot of technical work, especially with Graham Henry who helped us a lot to . . . change our style. Now we are playing better. We are making mistakes because we are discovering this style, this high level rugby, but we are learning. We want to show that and finish this tour as well as possible.”
Over 44,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday, with the remainder on sale until kick-off via Ticketmaster and IRFU head offices in Lansdowne Rd.