Bad blood makes win sweeter for Ireland
November 23, 2008
Donncha O'Callaghan has exposed the depth of hostility between Ireland and Argentina.
Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe bristled with menace as he summarised the latest instalment of one of Test rugby's more unlikely rivalries. "They won this time but there will be revenge," he scowled as he stalked from the press conference following Ireland's stormy 17-3 triumph at Croke Park.
There would have been an element of pantomime villainy about the parting shot except it was spoken with genuine intent - and the animosity flows in both directions. Victory may have guaranteed a precious spot among the second seeds for the World Cup draw on December 1, but O'Callaghan is more interested in savouring a treasured Pumas scalp.
"A lot of the players weren't thinking that far ahead to the draw or about the rankings," he said. "There's a fair bit of niggle between Argentina and Ireland. Personally I don't like them and they'd probably say the same about me.
"Make no bones about it, when you play them you know it will be tough. I respect them but when you seek their players out after a match they look to keep their own company. That's the way it is sometimes in sport. Some fellas you get on with and some you don't. That builds up through games.
"We don't like each other. They don't like us either. They're not totally at fault, at times we've given them reason not to like us. It's not one way, the trappiness. We're both passionate about rugby and it's not a bad thing to have teams who care about playing for their country.
"But the dislike does make it more satisfying when we beat them. A few times we've been beaten they've had no problem rubbing it in. We wanted to get one up on them yesterday. When they're in the dressing room they'll probably remember all of the smart-ass comments one or two of the fellas made.
"We lost at the World Cup and experienced that feeling ourselves."
Fate has repeatedly matched the nations at pivotal moments, creating the "bad blood" that fly-half Ronan O'Gara has spoken of in the past. One of them has crashed out after meeting at the last three World Cups and yesterday Ireland were playing to avoid being dumped into another tortuous group in three years time.
O'Gara, mindful of what was at state, issued a rallying cry in the build-up to yesterday by questioning why Ireland struggle to match the pride and passion of his province Munster. And O'Callaghan insists his comments had the desired effect.
"Ronan is a senior pro and when he comes out with lines like that it forces all of us to up our game. He sets the standard," said O'Callaghan. "He led from the front and we have a lot of respect for him. He gave us the kick up the ass we needed.
"He wasn't pointing the finger, he was saying it about all of us. The fellas fronted up but we can't just front up for one match. Hunger and desire should be non-negotiable when you pull on an Ireland jersey."
O'Gara scooped the man of the match award, courtesy of three penalties, a drop goal and the clever kick that set up Tommy Bowe's 76th minute try. But the erratic Lions fly-half also missed three more penalties, a conversion and three drop goals in a petulant display marred by bad decision making.
The real heroes were found up front where Ireland's pack slowly pounded the feared Pumas forwards into submission, taking complete control of the crucial final quarter which the hosts entered just 6-3 up.
Argentina were missing their star playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez who withdrew shortly before kick off with a hamstring injury. It was a cruel blow for the Pumas, who had already lost captain Felipe Contepomi to an infected hand, and the match would have been tighter with Hernandez's assured touch at the helm.
For the first time since toppling Australia in November 2006 Ireland had dispatched a side higher in the world rankings, providing welcome relief for skipper Brian O'Driscoll
"I didn't realise until the start of this week how long it had been since we'd beaten a team ranked above us. That's important to us," he said. "That set off an alarm bell and we wondered why that was the case. The pleasing thing that a lot was said this week, but there were actions to back it up - particularly our pack."
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