A looming World Cup semi-final between Australia and Argentina is a nightmare come true for Mario Ledesma.
The 42-year-old played in four World Cups for Argentina but is known now as the man who put steel into the Australian scrum at the tournament.
“I pray every day that they do not meet,” Ledesma told reporters during the group games when the Wallabies and Pumas were still separated.
“The feelings are there. I do not know how I would react.”
The Argentine is now having to confront those feelings as he plots the downfall of his home country in Sunday’s clash at Twickenham. Ledesma is not talking publicly about how he is coping however.
Ledesma was in the only other Argentine team to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2007. As a club player he made his name with Clermont in France.
But now he has been made to feel part of the Australian family since head coach Michael Cheika brought him on board this year.
The scrum had been seen as an Australian weak point, but it has been a revelation for much of this World Cup.
“Since I started with Australia, I have felt a part of the team,” said Ledesma, who has also worked with Cheika at Super Rugby team NSW Waratahs.
Cheika acknowledges what a torment it will be emotionally and professionally for Ledesma.
– Which anthem? –
“It’s obviously a big game for him, and he likes to shed a tear now and then in the dressing room or the team meeting just for a bit of fun,” said Cheika.
“I remember when we went to Mendoza to play in The Rugby Championship and we were walking up the stairs before the match and I said to him, ‘Are you going to sing your anthem, the Argentine anthem?’ And he wasn’t sure if he was allowed or not.
“I said, ‘Of course, that’s your heritage’, and I want him to love that.
“But I know he loves this team, he loves being involved in this team and he’ll do anything he possibly can this week to make sure this team is in the best-possible spot going forward.”
Cheika said he had wanted to hire Ledesma and another Argentine, Gonzalo Queseda, in less happier times when he was coach of the then struggling Stade Francais from 2010 to 2012.
Both were then involved in preparations for the 2011 World Cup however, Quesada with France as kicking coach and Ledesma as a player, said Cheika.
“I liked the combination of them together as they have different qualities. We made other choices in the end at Stade.”
Cheika, who joked he did not want Ledesma to change his nationality, said his scrum master had many qualities, not least the ability to connect with players.
“Mario has the knowledge, the technique and a philosophy and the dedication to go to the end,” said Cheika.
“He is someone who is very effective at his job, he spends the time reflecting on what he is going to do. So he doesn’t just arrive at training and make up his mind there and says lets do this.
“He also takes the players to one side and deals with them individually.
“He has been a success on the human front as he has touched the players in a very positive way with his emotions.”
Ledesma said of his job: “We are trying to put across a lot more than just what we know.
“With so many players with such experience you have to take into account human values as well as technical.”
Wallaby prop Scott Sio, who has impressed at the World Cup, said that Ledesma is “tough at training but he’s very passionate about what he does and it really rubs off onto everyone.”
“All of us really enjoy coming in for scrum sessions,” he said.
“In the past, people looked at scrums and thought, ‘Awww, scrum sessions’ but we really enjoy it now.
“He’s brought a great vibe to the unit session as a whole and everyone’s buying into it.” – Agence France-Presse