ARGENTINA ARE RENOWNED in the world of rugby for their love of scrummaging and it certainly hasn’t died under new head coach Mario Ledesma, formerly a Pumas hooker of 84 caps.
The recent Rugby Championship even saw Argentina harking back to their famous ‘bajada’ or ‘bajadita’ scrum method.
One of the clear telltales is the manner in which the Pumas locks bind their outside arm around their props’ hips, rather than in underneath and between their legs.
It sounds cool and it’s welcome that rugby still has variety, but it’s also worth noting that Argentina had the worst scrum success rate on their own feed in the Rugby Championship this year at 79%, as well as conceding the most scrum penalties with seven on their own put-in.
Ireland will pay them their due respect and prepare as studiously as ever, but there is no reason that Tadhg Furlong and the rest of the pack should not be confident.
Ireland’s return on their own put-in during this year’s Six Nations was 97%, with just one penalty conceded.
Joe Schmidt’s team are very often focused on the scrum providing a platform for their backline to attack off cleanly, but they are capable of doing damage on the opposition feed.
Last weekend in Chicago, the Irish pack – with Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter in the front row, and Tadhg Beirne and Quinn Roux locking down behind them – took Italy apart for a scrum penalty seven metres out from the Italian tryline.
One lineout and maul later, Ireland had turned that moment into a try for hooker Cronin.
“Those sort of things, you work hard to get,” says Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek.
“You might have been doing the same thing five times in a row but the sixth time, the opposition might just have got it wrong, or one guy is a bit tired and switched off. That is where the mental part of the game comes in where everyone tries to keep to their processes.
“Sometimes that can happen. They subbed him afterwards, their tighthead [Tizano Pasquali]. That was just a great reward, mentally we were all switched on at that particular time.”
Feek will hope to see more of the same from Ireland’s scrum this weekend, as well as a continuation of their ability to provide clean ball for out-half Johnny Sexton and his fellow backs.
The likely returns of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong to the front row should be a boost for Ireland, although Jack McGrath, Niall Scannell and Finlay Bealham also did well last weekend.
Argentina’s 31-man touring squad for this November, meanwhile, is missing loosehead Nahuel Tatez Chaparro and European-based tightheads Ramiro Herrera and Juan Figallo, all of whom were involved in the Rugby Championship.
The return of the popular Furlong, now rated around the world as the best in his position, is particularly exciting for Ireland fans. A superb scrummager, he also offers far more than set-piece strength.
Furlong’s handling and mobility make him an all-round threat, while Feek says the Leinster man’s thirst to learn ensures he’s a pleasure to work with.
“He asks a lot questions,” says Feek. “He studies hard.
“He’s smart. It’s not just athletically, it’s probably the smart work he does – the homework he does gets him into positions to be able to play the way he does.
“He really takes on board feedback from all the coaches. He’s a good professional.”
In behind Furlong in the tighthead depth chart for Ireland, Porter continues to develop promisingly.
Despite being a loosehead as recently as 2017, Porter is constantly improving at scrum-time, offers major impact in the carry and tackle, and is an ever-growing turnover threat at the breakdown too.
But for Furlong, one wonders just how much hype there would be around 22-year-old Porter.
“He’s unlucky and lucky to be playing with him, do you know what I mean, because I think he’s not getting the [same] game time,” says Feek of Porter having to back-up Furlong.
“But I felt at the weekend, the longer the game went on the better he got. When you see that you get excited by that because you should see that game by game, but seeing it during a game is a real positive.
“And what I mean by unlucky to be with Tadhg… obviously being alongside someone like that drives him. He sees good habits, he sees what he talks about and I try to make sure that all the learnings that Tadhg is getting, Ports is getting it at the same time.
“So you get that accelerated learning happening and I think creating good habits and those sort of things is probably good for him.”
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