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Dublin: 2 °C Monday 11 December, 2017
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'Irish people still think about that?': 2015 a distant memory for transitioning Pumas

A lot has changed since Argentina inflicted more World Cup misery on Ireland two years ago, and they arrive in Dublin this week a team in transition.

Martin Landajo speaking to the media at the team hotel in Dublin yesterday.
Martin Landajo speaking to the media at the team hotel in Dublin yesterday.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

MARTIN LANDAJO, THE Argentina scrum-half, has a selective memory when it comes to previous meetings with Ireland.

“Not good memories, I don’t have memories,” he jokes, when asked to recall his side’s last visit to Dublin, a 46-29, seven-try demolition in November 2012.

What about the last game between the two nations then?

Well, that’s a different story.

A telling smirk says it all.

Landajo is much more comfortable looking back on that day at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

“We did the perfect game, that day was perfect for us,” the 77-time capped nine says.

Tell us about it.

“Oh really? Irish people still think about that? I thought they had forgotten,” he wonders, genuinely surprised the World Cup quarter-final is still talked about around these parts.

It rears its ugly head every now and again, no more so than this week with the Pumas arriving in the capital for the final leg of their marathon season which started 11 months ago and has included 50 long-haul flights.

In repeating their 1999 and 2007 victories over Ireland, Argentina, guided by the mesmeric Juan Martin Hernandez and Nicolas Sanchez, inflicted more World Cup pain on Joe Schmidt’s side — and produced a defining and seminal moment in their own rugby history.

“People were very happy when we got back to Argentina, kids were joining clubs and rugby was becoming more popular,” Landajo, who played the full 80 minutes in Cardiff, says.

“It happened in 2007, for the first time, that rugby became the second sport in Argentina. This time again, in 2015, when we got back people were very happy and rugby was very important.”

And so the second coming of Argentinian rugby began. With amateurism in the rear-view mirror and the establishment of a Super Rugby franchise, a new chapter awaited.

Martin Landajo celebrates winning The scrum-half celebrates the win over Ireland in 2015. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

A lot has changed in the last 24 months, both on and off the field, as the union and head coach Daniel Hourcade overhauled the selection policy and ignored players plying their trade in Europe.

“I think we lost some very important players, retirement, or maybe they went to Europe, but we gained a lot of young kids, that’s good for us, good for Argentina. We’re trying to work with more of our young players, they’re great players, we still have a bit of adapting to do, but we’re good.

All but two of the Pumas’ travelling party are part of the Jaguares’ squad. They’re doing what no other national team are doing.

“It is a huge development, we’re playing the best teams in the world every weekend, that’s huge for us and for the team,” Landajo continues.

“It’s still difficult, we travel a lot, we’re together for the whole year, it’s pretty difficult to be with the same team, the same faces, the same hotels all the year.

“We’ll try to learn from other teams, but we’re the only team in the world who has the same club and national team but with different names. It’s new, it’s difficult, but it’s fun too.”

It’s an experiment, and Argentina are a team in transition, slowly building towards the next World Cup.

Landajo, more than anyone, knows the ongoing metamorphosis of Argentine rugby has its on-field consequences. It can be a slow process requiring perseverance and patience.

Since the 2015 World Cup semi-final, they have won just eight times in 29 Tests and their record this season shows just two victories, one of which came last weekend against Italy in Florence. The other was against Georgia in June.

“It is an experiment, we feel it like that. We talked a lot about this. We know it’s necessary — Argentina is still growing, it doesn’t have too many professional players, so we have to do this and play in both teams. In future, when rugby grows, maybe we’ll have more teams, like New Zealand does, South Africa does, but we’re not there now, we have to do everything.

“We always have pressure when we play for Argentina. We’re new in the Rugby Championship, we’re new in Super Rugby so we have to win, get results and play good rugby. This year we didn’t have good results so the pressure came into November. We have beaten Italy and I think we need to beat Ireland to have another good year and to finish the year much better.”

They have, however, never won in Dublin.

Martin Landajo The 29-year-old scrum-half remains a key figure for the Pumas. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

All six of Argentina’s victories over Ireland have come on home or neutral ground (three have been in World Cups) and they have been on the end of some heavy defeats on their previous visits here.

“We beat Ireland at the World Cups,” Landajo laughs.

Indeed, ranked 10th in the world, the Pumas have a remarkable record every four years and have reached the knock-out stages in five of the last six tournaments, including third and fourth place finishes in 2007 and 2015. They peak brilliantly.

“That’s our history, if you go back to our history it happens all the time. Maybe the first two years after the World Cup, we were changing players, not the coaches this time, but lots of the years the coaches changed but when we get near the World Cup, it gets better.”

For now, the focus is on one final game in 2017 and an opportunity to end the year on the ultimate high.

2015 has added further weight to Saturday’s Test, but Landajo insists that’s only on the Irish side.

Revenge?

“Oh, they’re saying that?” he asks.

“I think we don’t have to get into that one, there wouldn’t be much pressure for us. We just want to play the game, have fun and of course we want to win and we’ve never beaten Ireland in Ireland so that’s our main thing and not the World Cup.”

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