Landajo warns Ireland that Pumas have changed their stripes
Scrumhalf says Argentina have found right balance and are well primed for clash
Argentina’s Martin Landajo during training at UCD, Dublin, ahead of their match against Ireland on Saturday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Nobody told Argentina it was monsoon season at the Belfield Bowl. A dog of an afternoon. Rain strafing the roof of the sheds and drowning voices as the players sloshed through an impressive, high-tempo run-out.
It’s easy for the scrumhalf to show some front. Landajo played against Joe Schmidt’s side last year when Ireland won 28-19 in Aviva and also in 2015 when Argentina blew Ireland away 43-20 in the World Cup quarter-final in Principality Stadium.
That was a walloping. Those sort of performances are ingrained in his DNA. He also knows Conor Murray won’t play this week. But it’s not a subject the scrumhalf warms to.
“Of course you always want to play with the best. We are not thinking that right now. We are thinking of our stuff,” he says. “For Ireland as a team, we know he’s important, but personally, I just want to play for my team.”
No difference then. Murray, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, John Cooney?
“No it doesn’t [make a difference] Ireland is a great team so everyone that plays is going to play well. I don’t know the other nines, so after the match I’ll tell you that.”
Argentina, he says are changing the way they play. They are finding a balance between kicking and playing what’s in front with the ball although they still have wonderful runners. Their 21-year-old winger Bautista Delguy, hovering in the background, is one of those top of the ground, gliding fliers.
“This year we started to change our game,” explains Landajo. “We have started to kick more of the ball. We want to give the pressure to them and increase the pressure in the field so it’s a good thing. We are working on it.
“We used to play every ball and now we are trying to be half and half, change it up. I think that’s similar to Ireland. They also kick the ball a lot so we will have to play with ball in hand but we have new weapons. I think we are a bit similar.”
Argentina are a month out of the Rugby Championship, where they won two matches from six, 19-23 against Australia in the Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast and South Africa, who they beat 32-19 in Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza.
It is the third year at that level and still on the learning curve. A new coach in former hooker Mario Ledesma, who played for a decade in France with Narbonne, Castres and Clermont, came in for Daniel Hourcade as head coach in August.
Ledesma has widely travelled since retirement in 2011. Stade Francais and Montpellier had his expertise before he moved to Australia where he was with Waratahs and then forwards coach with Australia until 2017.
So many things have changed for Argentina. Given Ledesma’s frontrow pedigree Ireland can expect the scrum to be a contested area. It was their fabled Bajada set piece that demolished the Irish eight in 2015.
“We had some weeks in Argentina to rest. We had like two weeks to rest after the Rugby Championship and we’re much better now,” says Landajo dismissing any suggestion of Championship hangover.
“I think the team had a good year in preparation so I think we are very good for these Tests.”
The 30-year-old would say that. Video analysis will tell Schmidt exactly how much they have shifted emphasis but the aspect of their game that shook injury hit Ireland in Cardiff three years ago was their defence.
“That day the defence was very good. Ireland is a team that loves to have the ball and make lots of phases. On that day we had great defence. So we’re going to have to bring it this Saturday,” he says before defaulting to the tried and trusted.
However, in this instance it is true. There are different faces all around. Argentina are a team in transition hoping to time its run to the World Cup and 2015 now almost a relic scoreline.
“It’s totally different. It’s in the past. It’s a good memory, of course,” says Landajo. “But this is a different team. Lots of young players, different staff, different type of game.”
All of them prepared for rain, hail or snow.