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Past History Not On O’Driscoll’s Mind

Past History Not On O’Driscoll’s Mind

Gearing up for Saturday’s must-win clash against Argentina at Croke Park, team captain Brian O’Driscoll has played down the simmering rivalry between Ireland and the Pumas, which was plain for all to see when the sides met in Paris at last year’s Rugby World Cup.

Back then, Ireland’s hopes of making the World Cup quarter-finals were dashed when a Juan Martin Hernandez-inspired Argentina carved out a 30-15 victory at Parc des Princes.

In the intervening months, much has changed for both sides. New coaches, retirements, fresh blood into the respective squads.

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Saturday’s game will be the tenth Test encounter between Ireland and Argentina, with ‘Los Pumas’ victorious in the previous three.

Overall, the score stands at five-all but all that will matter come full-time at Croke Park will be who has come out on the right side of the result.

This fixture hardly needs added spice but Ireland (currently eighth) and Argentina (fourth) both require a win to cement their places in Bands 2 and 1 respectively for the fast-approaching 2011 Rugby World Cup pool allocation draw.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has termed it a ‘cup final’ type of a game and Brian O’Driscoll, who will be leading his country for the 51st time this weekend, is treating it as a one-off too.

“There seems to have been a lot at stake in the games that we’ve played against Argentina in recent years,” O’Driscoll said.

“We’ve happened to play them in the last three World Cups, in the build-up to World Cups and and post-World Cups, built up grudge matches as such that one team wants to get the better of the other having been defeated at the previous World Cup.

“All of that adds to the hype of the game but essentially, what this game is about is seeding. So that’s where the focus is for this particular game.

“You let previous rivalries past you by and you just think about ‘the now’ and what’s at stake on Saturday.”

O’Driscoll knows what to expect from the Pumas and as well as wanting to bounce back from last weekend’s 22-3 defeat to the All Blacks, the rankings scenario will undoubtedly add pressure to the occasion.

“If you wanted to quantity it against something else, it’s like a qualification match for the World Cup.

“I’ve been involved in a couple before, granted against lower-seeded sides than Argentina.

“But essentially that’s what it is and we’ll find out on Saturday evening where we’re sitting rankings-wise for the pool stages.

“There’s an added incentive so that does add to the pressure for both sides – we’ve both something to gain from it. That will bring more of an edge to the game.”

As well as coping without the retired Agustin Pichot, Gonzalo Longo, Manuel Contepomi and Omar Hasan, Argentina will have to make do for the final match of their European tour without Felipe Contepomi, Manuel’s twin brother.

Contepomi, the Leinster star, will not be able to captain the Pumas and line out against his provincial colleague O’Driscoll, after a cut on his right hand became infected.

Words have often been exchanged between Contepomi and the Irish players when in the heat of a Test match, particularly in that 2007 World Cup pool game when he had some heated exchanges with Donncha O’Callaghan and Denis Leamy.

But O’Driscoll insisted that when on duty with Leinster, the pair talk very little about the international scene.

“When we go to play (for Leinster), we tend not to talk about our national teams too much. There’s nothing hugely that we’re going to gain from hearing about the Pumas as opposed to him hearing from us.

“We’ve had some great rivalries in the past, personally against Felipe, I have. The last time he got the upper hand in the World Cup.

“We’ve both sent and received text messages congratulating or commiserating whatever the outcome is, but you get on with it.

“You’re team-mates when you come together for the provincial side and that’s where our focus is. But this week I’m sure his foot will be firmly in the Puma camp.”

And although agreeing that Contepomi’s absence will hit the Pumas, O’Driscoll feels that new Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has enough talent at his disposal to cover the loss of one of the team’s central figures.

“Felipe’s a world class player and he’s shown it since I remember playing against him for the first time back in 1999.

“He’s a big character for them, he has a lot of passion for playing for them and has skippered them in recent times. He will be a loss as any key member of the team would be.

“But the thing about Argentina now is that they seem to have a huge amount of strength in depth, which they didn’t have five or six years ago.

“There’s a huge focus post-World Cup on Argentinian rugby and what they can achieve, the numbers playing the game and the numbers that are playing in Europe. So there won’t be any lack of expertise in their side,” the Irish skipper added.