This article previews Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash between the Wallabies and Pumas at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast. The game kicks off at 8:05 PM AEST on the 15th of September. The referee is Wayne Barnes from England.
While the Pumas have yet to beat the Springboks or All Blacks, they have already beaten the Wallabies on four occasions. The two sides have not played each other since the 2003 World Cup. In the current Wallabies squad only Nathan Sharpe has played against Argentina before. Below is their head to head history.
For the third time this season, a Wallabies captain has picked up a serious injury. Will Genia is out for six months after tearing his ACL against South Africa. He will be replaced by Nick Phipps, who has less than 100 minutes of Test experience in his four caps. Lock Nathan Sharpe has been named as captain in Genia’s absence. In more positive news, centre Pat McCabe has recovered from injury and James O’Connor is expected to become available later in the tournament.
In other changes this week, coach Robbie Deans has dropped Kurtley Beale back to the bench. Berrick Barnes shifts to fullback while McCabe slots in at inside-centre. Western Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan takes Phipps’ place on the bench. In the forwards, lock Kane Douglas gets his Test debut in the absence of the injured Sitaleki Timani. After having a good impact from the bench last week, Scott Higginbotham again starts on the reserves. Dom Shipperley gets his second Test start after a solid debut against the Springboks.
15-Berrick Barnes, 14-Dominic Shipperley, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Pat McCabe, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Nick Phipps, 8-Radike Samo, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Dave Dennis, 5-Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4-Kane Douglas, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Tatafu Polota Nau, 1-Benn Robinson
Reserves: 16-Stephen Moore or Saia Fainga’a, 17-James Slipper, 18-Scott Higginbotham, 19-Liam Gill, 20-Brett Sheehan, 21-Anthony Faingaa, 22-Kurtley Beale
Coach Santiago Phelan has made two backline changes from last week. Martin Landajo replaces Nicolas Vergallo at halfback, while Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino replaces Martin Rodriguez at fullback.
15-Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14-Gonzalo Camacho, 13-Marcelo Bosch, 12-Santiago Fernandez, 11-Horacio Agulla, 10-Juan Martin Hernandez, 9-Martin Landajo, 8-Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7-Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6-Julio Faras Cabello, 5-Patricio Albacete, 4-Manuel Carizza, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Eusebio Guinazu, 1-Rodrigo Roncero.
Reserves: 16-Agustin Creevy, 17-Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18-Leonardo Senatore, 19-Toms Leonardi, 20-Nicolas Vergallo, 21-Martin Rodriguez, 22-Juan Imhoff.
The Wallabies will be greatly relieved to have picked up their first win of the competition last week. Tactically they still have room for improvement, but at the end of the day, a win’s a win. The side will be especially pleased by their resilience, coming back from 6-13 down at half time to get the job done. Coach Robbie Deans said the game plan last week was not to resort to grubber kicks, so you have to wonder what game plan Berrick Barnes had been reading. He opted for the boot far too quickly, especially when he had players outside him. South Africans are excellent in kicking duels no the tactic was never likely to pay off. Despite his tendency to kick the ball away, I’m not surprised to see Barnes named in the squad this week. He was six from six from the tee against South Africa and he is generally a very good defender. Once the Wallabies started to hold onto the ball more they were far more potent attack. They were competitive at the break down and secured good front-foot ball, which enabled the backline to hit the line at pace. It was the first time this series Australia were able to find any rhythm in attack. Hopefully the Wallabies will now have the confidence to continue with that approach this week.
Based on what we’ve seen in the last two weeks, the Wallabies have their work cut out for them on Saturday. The Pumas defended brilliantly against the All Blacks for the first 65 minutes last week. They were brutal at times, frequently driving the ball carrier backwards in the tackle. The forwards flooded the breakdown and were very difficult to drive off the ball. Argentina intentionally left space on the outside and drifted well to cover backline plays. The Wallabies will have to learn from the All Blacks’ initial mistakes and eventual road to success, which was to attack round the fringes. If the All Blacks can’t go through the Pumas forwards I doubt the Wallabies can.
In last year’s Rugby World Cup Argentina held the All Blacks at bay for 60 minutes before the score blew out to 33-10. Last week they kept New Zealand to a narrow lead past the 65th minute before losing 21-5. There’s no question that Los Pumas are the fastest improving side in world rugby. I wouldn’t want to bet against them becoming a top four side in the world at some point. Argentina have openly said they are buoyed by the absence of Wallabies halfback and captain Will Genia. They like to put pressure on the ball carrier and will no doubt target replacement halfback Nick Phipps. Argentina have a quartet of players who kick very well and will be more than happy to exchange kicks if Australia are to continue with the ineffective chip kicking that we have seen over the past few weeks. Los Pumas will sniff an upset here and will have taken enormous confidence from their competitive showing against the All Blacks.
Los Pumas led at half time against the Springboks three weeks ago before fading to a draw. They pushed the All Blacks hard last week before fading in the last 25 minutes. If the Wallabies can stick with Argentina for the first three-quarters of the Test they should get their opportunities late in the game. If they can avoid being flustered by the Argentinian physicality then Australia should get the job done, but it will certainly be no walk in the park.