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Monday 5 December 2016

Dempsey: Pumas will fear no team

Magician Hernandez is right back to his best

Juan Martin Hernandez scores the first try for Argentina against Namibia during the World Cup pool match at the weekend
Juan Martin Hernandez scores the first try for Argentina against Namibia during the World Cup pool match at the weekend

Distance can provide objectivity. Leinster's new backs coach Girvan Dempsey was subjected to one of the greatest Irish performances in living memory against France where so many of the players he will be working with next month were put through the mill.

They will have to back it up against Argentina in the quarter-final at The Millennium Stadium on Sunday in what is an awesome ask, not just based on the brutality exchanged with France.

Argentina are not the same animal they were when they gutted Ireland at the World Cups back in 1999 and in 2007 or when they were beaten by Alan Quinlan's lunge for the line at the Adelaide Oval in 2003.

They are better than they were back then.

"You look at Argentina over the last number of years, they have been growing their game," said Dempsey.

"The experience they've had through the Rugby Championship has been brilliant for them. They are not fearful of any side."

Their coach Daniel Hourcade has spoken impressively about how the Pumas work their way through games.

"The team has the tools needed for each situation," he said.

Weapons

"Sometimes you need an open game and sometimes a closed game.

"But our weapons can go both ways and that is the key. We must choose the right weapon at the right time.

"Our defence has been very good. It still is. It may not seem that way but it's to do with the risks we take."

Dempsey was not about to argue the point. The evidence is there to be examined.

The South Americans scalped the Springboks for the first time in Durban this summer in a mesmeric match and they had New Zealand stretched to breaking point at the start of the World Cup.

They are different now because they have embraced change, while remaining true to the basic tenets of their history.

"They've always traditionally had a very physical pack, very strong set-piece and very physical, combative defence across the field and a lot of pressure at the ball at ruck time," said Dempsey, the former full-back, capped 82 times by Ireland.

Their most decorated back, Juan Martin Hernandez, is looking a lot like his old self.

Nicknamed 'The Magician,' he has worked his way back into prime condition, showcasing his immense talent at centre against New Zealand on day one of the tournament and commanding the ball from out-half as Argentina hockeyed Namibia 64-19 at the weekend.

They made eleven changes for that one in what was a nine-try spectacular, moving up a gear or two whenever they felt necessary.

The presence of Diego Maradona at their matches has been a nod to the widening of their ambition from gargantuan grinders to great entertainers with the timeless Hernandez at the helm.

Unlike France's Freddie Michalak, this 33-year-old has rarely been seen as a weak spot.

There are many comparisons to be drawn with Leinster old boy Felipe Contepomi, the former seen as something of an individual, the latter as a creator-in-chief.

These days, Hernandez is surrounded by a host of game-breakers, like lightening wing Juan Imhoff.

"You can see they've grown their game. They have that Argentinean flair.

"Now, they've put some structure on it," continued Dempsey.

"They are a very dangerous side and through the tournament they are one of the teams that have been playing really exciting rugby..

They have been able to avail of the rest, recovery and rehabilitation denied to Ireland in light of their training spin against the Namibians.

They know what Ireland are capable of and they will be keen to administer their own special brand of South American brutality.

"It is going to be massively challenging for Ireland, particularly with the short turnaround."

The worn-down, beaten-up Irish will go to war with everything they have.

They will need to scale the physical heights again to hold out any reasonable expectation of making their first semi-final.

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