LONDON, 21 Oct - Matt Giteau’s tongue may have been firmly planted in cheek when he hailed his friend and opponent Juan Martin Hernandez a "beautiful man” but he knows Argentina’s elegant magician still has the ability to make things ugly for the Wallabies on Sunday.
Giteau, who has just collected his 100th cap, was in mischievous form on Wednesday at the team’s Teddington headquarters as he was asked to reflect on the qualities of his fellow playmaker Hernandez, who worked alongside him in midfield so superbly at Toulon.
“He's a beautiful man - I always told him that when he was at Toulon," Giteau said with a grin, as his description of the Pumas’ cool inside-centre caused plenty of mirth.
The last time this old duelling pair, now both 33 but with their distinguished careers seemingly surfing a new high, turned out together at Twickenham, it was in perfect midfield harmony in May as they combined to pilot Toulon to victory over Clermont in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup Final.
Now, though, Giteau is wary of the rarest of enduring talents of 'El Mago' Hernandez - the magician - a man whose gifts down the years between injuries and during a nomadic playing career have been recognised among the most rarefied the game has seen.
“Juan Martin is very skilful, he’s tough, defensively strong and adds a lot of stability to that team,” Giteau said. “I know what it’s like to play with him, especially in big games. He is a very, very good player, very confident in what he does and the things he can do that a lot of other players can’t.”
Playing at 12, Hernandez’s hard-headed experience, sublime kicking touch and sleights of hand in attack have proved invaluable in providing the same sort of playmaking support to impressive fly-half Nicolas Sanchez that Giteau gives to Bernard Foley.
On occasion at RWC 2015, Hernandez, who will be a star attraction with Argentina’s new Super Rugby franchise, has rekindled the old memory of his 2007 pomp when he produced a series of tours de force at the World Cup in France that saw him short-listed for world player of the year.
Joy to behold
Against New Zealand in their opening game, some of the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ trickery as Hernandez indulged in outrageous passes, flicked seemingly blind into teammates’ grateful arms, was a joy to behold.
Intriguingly, during most of the tournament, he has not been setting off fireworks but has been happy to play solid second fiddle while helping launch the soaring new stars of the Argentine back line such as Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero.
Yet, certainly, Giteau has seen Hernandez’s influence in the new-look confidence exuded by Daniel Hourcade’s team which has continued to improve after their fabulous first win over South Africa in the Rugby Championship.
"They like to throw the ball around, their back three are very dangerous, they’re good up front, they’re good everywhere and they do have their own style,” Giteau said. “And with that confidence, they’re incredibly dangerous.”
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