Forget the All Blacks v France, this is the 2007 World Cup rematch that will determine the rest of the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
These two proud nations will once again do battle in an attempt to throw away the tag of ‘under performers’ and I truly believe that whoever walks away from this game as the victors will be the team to beat for the rest of the tournament.
As a massive Brian O’Driscoll fan, Ireland have always been a sentimental favourite rugby side of mine. One of my favourite sides to watch take on the All Blacks as a part of me would secretly be chuffed to see them upset the best in the world.
Ireland are very familiar with the quarter finals at the Rugby World Cup – they’ve been here five times in the past. Only twice have they not made it past the pool stages – once in 1999 where they lost a quarter final play-off match against none other than Argentina. They also failed to make it past the pool stages again in 2007 when they lost a critical match against…Argentina.
Seeing a pattern here?
Ireland have met Argentina fifteen times since their initial clash in 1990. Ireland have 10 victories over the Pumas but at the Rugby World Cup, Ireland and Argentina have met 3 different times. Argentina have won 2 of those 3 encounters.
Ireland have had arguably the harder run to this stage. Not only did they have to overcome a scrappy Italian side but they had to fight off a vicious French team which hit them hard.
The game against the French was a double edged sword for both teams – the winner would take on the in-form, physical style of Argentina, the loser would have to attempt to dethrone the current number one side New Zealand.
Now its just a matter of seeing which side of the sword will cut the least. The Irish go into this game with a lot stacked up against them. Their inspirational Captain Paul O’Connell had his legendary 108-test match career ended prematurely due to a severe hamstring injury picked up against the French. O’Connells loss cannot be understated – he’s a natural leader for the team and has captained them to Six Nations glory in both 2014 and 2015.
They are also without blindside flanker Peter O’Mahoney who was also injured and will miss the rest of the tournament. He joins Jared Payne on the Irish injury list.
Another Irish loose forward that will be missing this crucial game will be Sean O’Brien who copped a week long ban for punching one of the French forwards in their final pool game.
In all of this, there is a silver lining. Star first-five Johnny Sextons initial groin injury may not be as bad as first indicated. This will be great news as Sexton is on fire right now. His form is undeniable and he could potentially be the game winner for Ireland. If not, they have an extremely capable replacement in the form of Ian Madigan who had a great 60mins after Sexton went down with an injury against France.
As for the Pumas, they have come so close to going all the way in the past, but have fallen short.
In 2007, they narrowly missed the Grand Final, thrashing the host nation of France in the Bronze Medal match, coming third for their best finish ever.
Argentina are to Ireland what France are to New Zealand – World Cup Kryptonite. They have spoiled the World Cup hopes for Ireland twice in the three times they have clashed on the largest rugby stage in the world and could very well do it again.
Argentina have had a bit of a walk through to the quarter finals. They gave New Zealand a bit of a fright in the first game and since then have cruised past the rest of their pool, scoring over 160 points in 3 matches.
Being involved with the Four Nations has clearly improved their game and moulded this team into quite a force.
Argentina are currently playing the kind of rugby the All Blacks WANT to play. Aggressive. Physical. They hold the ball and dictate the pace of the game to how they want it.
Nicolas Sanchez is doing an amazing job right now when it comes to kicking. And that has always been the game plan in a sense for Argentina. Physical defence, a great kicker but slightly lacking in the attack department.
But then in 2012, the Pumas had a visit from none other than the World Cup winning Kiwi coach, Sir Graham Henry. Ted enjoyed a brief stint between 2011 and 2012 as a consultant for Argentina who really began to get the ball rolling with sharpening the Pumas attack. He changed their mind set to be more evasive and to keep the ball in hand. And its worked.
They’ve begun to offload a lot more with their running attack and its paid off in spades. Their wingers are actually seeing the ball. Santiago Cordero and his fellow winger Juan Imhoff at times look like some of the most dangerous men on the pitch with ball in hand.
The Pumas too will be missing an influential player with centre Marcelo Bosch receiving a week long ban for a lifting tackle in their last game against Namibia. Argentina have been pretty lucky so far this tournament, they’ve managed to avoid any major injuries in key positions which will enable them to name an extremely close to full strength side.
My heart says Ireland. My head says Argentina. The Pumas will over power the Irish forward pack and dominate a very physical game. Irelands missing two flankers and now a lock and their captain. If this was last week before Irelands string of injuries, I would have given this to them but Argentina have improved too much over the last few years.
Pumas will take this 26-16.
One thing is for certain: These are two amazing teams and I’m confident that both of them have the tools to go all the way to the pinnacle of the rugby world.