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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019
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Irish descendent Ayerza and the Pumas are coming for Ireland's scrum

‘They haven’t dominated many teams. We’re planning to really take it to them.’

Murray Kinsella reports from the Vale

THERE WAS BOUND to be a chat about Irish ancestry at some point this week out in the Vale of Glamorgan, where Argentina have been cosily tucked away preparing for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Ireland.

It’s estimated that there are somewhere between half a million and a million people with Irish roots living in Argentina today.

Marcos Ayerza and Giorgi Nemsadze Ayerza is an important part of Argentina's XV. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Even the great Che Guevara’s family line can be traced back to Ireland. The revolutionary’s father was Ernesto Guevara Lynch.

Argentina prop Marco Ayerza has to delve some way back in his own genealogy, but proudly states that he is “one sixteenth of an Irishman” after he plants himself into a seat upstairs in the four-star hotel at the Vale Resort.

His great-great-grandfather was one David O’Connor. Ayerza believes O’Connor came from the the Dublin region. It makes his meetings with Ireland in Test rugby all the more special for the loosehead prop and his family.

Oh yes, hugely,” says Ayerza, now playing in his third World Cup. “My grandmother, she passed away, but she was proud of myself playing against Ireland, her grandfather was Irish and she loved Ireland.”

Ayerza’ home club back in Buenos Aires is Club Newman, which was funded by Christian Brothers from Ireland. Felipe Contepomi also came through the Newman ranks, the links multi-faceted.

The Ayerza family feels further affinity for Ireland in their line of work back in Argentina, namely running the Haras Agua Rensa stud.

The Pumas front row himself remains heavily involved in the horse racing world – one of his favourite horses is named ‘Welford Road’ after his club Leicester’s home venue – and senses that the passion for this field is somehow linked back to Ireland.

“It’s huge, it started from my grandfather. My father and myself have some horses back in Argentina in our farm over there, the stud. There’s a big tradition of Irish people in Argentina.

“I think horses is one of them, plenty of horses from Coolmore come over to Argentina for the season over there.

Britain Rugby WCup Argentina Georgia Ayerza has a deep passion for horse racing and scrums. Source: Martin Cleaver

“So, our links with Ireland are always very good. We have similar ways of thinking of doing things. But yeah, horses is a big passion for myself.”

Ayerza – who has been with the Leicester Tigers since 2006 – has put all things equine to the side in recent times, however, and his week has been about preparing as competently as possible for facing what he believes is one of the best teams in the world.

The 32-year-old’s other great passion is life is the scrum.

Listening to Ayerza explain what the bajada involves is a true education, the famous Argentinian coordinated shove having spread throughout the rugby world in years gone by, after the Pumas had begun to hand lessons out life, right and centre.

It’s a discussion for another time perhaps, but Ayerza’s desire for the scrum to always be a contest comes across as genuine emotion in his speech. This man loves the scrum and everything about it.

Ireland have performed superbly at this set-piece under Joe Schmidt and Greg Feek, but Ayerza and his Pumas teammates feel they can test the Irish scrum to a far greater degree than it has been yet.

“The Irish scrum has been efficient over the last year,” says Ayerza. “They didn’t really want to dominate. You have to have the tightest platform, an aggressive pack to play. I like to test myself at every scrum and to dominate the scrum if possible.

“Ireland have been very clinical, very good, tidy. Of course they haven’t been dominated but they haven’t dominated many teams. We’re planning to really take it to them. It’s an area we have respect for. They have an experienced front row and forward pack.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - Pool C - Argentina v Tonga - King Power Stadium Ayerza loves playing against Ireland. Source: Mike Egerton

“I’m not sure who will play but maybe Cian Healy and (Mike) Ross and, of course, Rory Best. They are very experienced and have played together for many, many games and they know each other and they will be capable of having a solid scrum.

“Having said that we want to have a battle up front.”

Jérôme Garcès might have the most influential say of all, although the hope is that we see a ferocious scrum battle unfold between the Pumas and Ireland. Just another strand to a fascinating match-up.

While Ayerza’s focus is certainly on that area, he points out that ensuring Ireland don’t get the rapid ruck ball they thrive on may be the biggest key of them all in his quarter-final.

“I think the breakdown battle will decide who will get ahead to those semi-finals,” says Ayerza. “And getting ready for that battle we have been training a long days and tidying in that area of the game.

“So of course our forward game, our defence, our attacking rugby at times have to be spot on, have to be at our best to be able to match the Irish. Parity at the breakdown will be the deciding factor of the game.”

Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat, Marcos.

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Murray Kinsella

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