Irish expect battering by Pumas' 'full bag of chips'

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The Independent Online

The showdown with Argentina at Lansdowne Road today will almost certainly prove to be the toughest test of the autumn for Ireland, even their manager, Eddie O'Sullivan, admits that.

The showdown with Argentina at Lansdowne Road today will almost certainly prove to be the toughest test of the autumn for Ireland, even their manager, Eddie O'Sullivan, admits that.

From being the whipping boys of southern hemisphere rugby a few years ago, the Pumas have finally come of age and are now knocking on the door of the cosy threesome of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa with a view to turning the Tri-Nations Championship into a quadrangular affair.

"Argentina are the full bag of chips now," says O'Sullivan, who masterminded a convincing Ireland win over South Africa a fortnight ago. "They might take a little time to settle into a four-team southern hemisphere tournament, but I can tell you that none of the Big Three would fancy an away game in Buenos Aires."

Their captain, the much-travelled scrum-half, Agustin Pichot, certainly feels that their victory over France in Marseilles last weekend has added weight to their case for inclusion.

"We wrote a page into rugby history by becoming the first team to beat France in Marseilles, and it will help us argue with conviction for stronger fixtures, and possibly joining the Tri-Nations," says Pichot.

The Irish can certainly expect a physical battering. The Pumas have always managed to make their hulking presence felt. Their scrum is one of the strongest in the world, and in Felipe Contepomi and Pichot they have one of the more canny half-back pairings in Test rugby.

The Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll, said: "I've played Barbarians with Pichot and I know Contepomi reasonably well because we play together at Leinster. Pichot is very good. He's your typical sniping scrum-half who makes it messy for you when you are playing against him. He's got Latin flair.

"I also rate Felipe very highly. He has fitted in well at Leinster and played some great rugby. He's a good footballer, comfortable at number 10, centre and full-back."

The Pumas possibly lack the pace of the Irish out wide, but they will ask probing questions of the Irish defence. For his part, Contepomi believes Ireland's greatest threat will come from their line-out, where the second-row pairing of Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly have few peers.

Contepomi said: "We will have to defend well against a big, strong Irish team - their line-out is an imposing one which we will have to be wary of. They attack off it and use their backs well - so our defence will have to be aggressive, and territorial gains will be key."

But it will be no different for Ireland. The full-back, Girvan Dempsey, who has faced Argentina twice before, said: "You have to work extremely hard for any win against the Pumas. They thrive on physicality, try to dominate the scrums and maul you all over the park. But we're really up for this one - we want to finish the autumn series unbeaten."

Ireland triumphed at Lansdowne Road two years ago and also won the most recent meeting between the sides when they beat the Pumas by a point in the World Cup last year. But the chips are down now. There will be no backward steps this afternoon.

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); G Murphy (Leicester), B O'Driscoll (capt), S Horgan, D Hickie (all Leinster); R O'Gara, P Stringer (both Munster); R Corrigan, S Byrne (both Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), A Foley (Munster), J O'Connor (Wasps). Replacements: F Sheahan, M Horan, D O'Callaghan (all Munster), E Miller, G Easterby (both Leinster), D Humphreys, K Maggs (both Ulster).

Argentina: J-M Hernandez (Stade Français); L Borges (Pucara), F-M Aramburu (Biarritz), M Contepomi (Newman), H Senillosa (Clermont Auvergne); F Contepomi (Leinster), A Pichot (Stade Français, capt); R Roncero (Stade Français), M Ledesma (Castres), O Hasan (Toulouse), P Albacete (Pau), R Alvarez (Perpignan), M Durand (Montpellier), G Longo (Clermont Auvergne), L Ostiglia (Padova). Replacements: F Mendez (Mendoza); E Guiñazu (Mendoza); P Bouza (Duendes); A Petrilli (Bourgoin); N Fernandez Miranda (Hindu); J de la Cruz Fernandez Miranda (Hindu); G Tiesi (San Isidro).

Referee: A Spreadbury (England).