Rugby World Cup
Pumas no longer feel rivalry with Ireland, 'don't hate them either'
Patricio Connolly
October 17, 2015
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe celebrates victory in 2007 © Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

VALE OF GLAMORGAN -- The 1999, 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cups saw Argentina and Ireland play important matches against each other, turning the fixture into something more than just another game. But in time, the rivalry was lost. Without Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan and Brian O'Driscoll for the Men in Green, or Felipe Contepomi, Mario Ledesma and Agustin Pichot for the Pumas, this matchup doesn't have the same meaning for its members.

When the teams face off at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday, only four players will remain from their latest meeting in a World Cup, at the Parc des Princes, back in September 2007: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Martin Hernandez for the Pumas; and for Ireland, Rory Best, who was a substitute then but will start on Sunday, and Eoin Reddan, who opened the match eight years ago and is now one of the reserves. Note that Paul O'Connell suffered an injury against France and won't be able to play, and Horacio Agulla, who scored a try that day, didn't make the Argentina matchday 23 this time around. Marcos Ayerza and Juan Manuel Leguizamon, also, were part of the Argentine squad that won the bronze medal but they did not play against Ireland.

Can Ireland cope without O'Connell?

Most of the current Pumas don't see this matchup as a classic. Many of them have never even played against Ireland, and for them the importance of this match lies in the fact that it is a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal not in the opponent.

"There's a history with Ireland, but I haven't lived it," Joaquin Tuculet told ESPN. "As a fan, I have, but not as a player. I don't feel that [rivalry]; maybe more with France." Nicolas Sanchez, who has never defeated Ireland, is of like mind: "It was more common to play with them before, there was a rivalry with O'Gara. That is no longer the case. But for us, this is still the most important match of our lives."

With the Rugby Championship every year, now it is much more natural to play against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and facing Ireland during the international windows has less prominence. "They are tough matches and they have always beaten us, so I want to win this time around," said Martin Landajo.

While there are those who don't live Ireland as a special kind of match, others do. "They take it as a classic," said Juan Imhoff. "We must accept the challenge and show everyone why we are placed at that level. I don't really feel the rivalry that there used to be, and I don't hate them either."

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe© Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Fernandez Lobbe is one of the players who have lived those duels but he knows the rivalry is different now: "That classic isn't there anymore, especially for us. We have different players now and that rivalry was lost. We will face a great team, everything else has been left behind."

Hernandez was one of the architects of the Puma victory in 2007, the last Argentine win against Ireland. He scored three drop goals and enjoyed a memorable ovation in Paris. But he has left that rivalry behind. "Today, the only thing I feel and the only thing I want is to win. There's nothing better than that. We have to keep on going down this road".

Pumas-Ireland may now be a classic of another generation, but Sunday's fixture could revive the matchup between two squads with history in the World Cup.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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