Preview: Argentina v Australia
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND SIX: Desperate Australia coach Michael Cheika remained defiant ahead of their clash against Argentina Saturday that could decide his fate.
“I keep getting asked whether I am going to resign and I keep giving the same answer,” snapped the 51-year-old who has overseen a disastrous year for the Wallabies.
“Tough situations arise in all sports and then they go away and the tough people stay,” was his clear message ahead of the Test in northwestern city Salta.
If Australia fails to win, they will suffer the humiliation of finishing last behind champions New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
Cheika was once the toast of Wallabies’ supporters, taking the team to second place behind the All Blacks at the 2015 World Cup in England.
His sometimes unorthodox methods included a ban on headphones close to Tests with the coach justifying the move by saying: “Cyndi Lauper won’t win you the game.”
But six losses in eight matches this year has seen public and media calls for his head, and a degree of support from Australia boss Raelene Castle.
“We are facing some challenging times, but Michael is doing some work to make sure he has got the best people around him,” she said after a home loss to Argentina last month.
There have been reports linking former Australia great George Gregan with a coaching position.
An inability to convert possession into points cost the Wallabies dearly last weekend against South Africa as they fell 23-12 in Port Elizabeth.
“We were let down by execution errors, skill errors, passes slightly behind or pushing the offload.
“I think there is a hell of a lot of positives to take out of the Springboks match,” insisted Cheika.
Veteran scrumhalf Will Genia believes Salta can be the turning point and bring some relief for Cheika.
“We are going to get Argentina back,” he vowed, referring to the shock 23-19 loss in the Gold Coast last month, the first at home to Argentina for 35 years.
Cheika has made only one personnel change after South Africa with Bernard Foley recalled at fly-half and Kurtley Beale switching to centre in place of Matt Toomua.
Mario Ledesma used to part of the coaching staff that worked with Cheika – now he is the mastermind of a resurgent Argentina side eyeing a third Championship win this season.
Last year, the Pumas lost all six matches without collecting even one bonus point, and three heavy losses to Wales and Scotland last June led coach Daniel Hourcade to quit.
Ledesma took over and delivered wins at home to South Africa and away to Australia to give the South Americans two Championship victories in a season for the first time.
His major concern ahead of the Australia match is scrumming, with New Zealand severely embarrassing them last weekend.
Tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera was brought back from France for that Test and gets another chance to prove his worth against Australia.
Ledesma has kept faith with his pack and made two backline changes – winger Ramiro Moyano and centre Matias Orlando replace injured Bautista Delguy and Bautista Ezcurra.
“My boys are working hard every day and starting to believe in themselves. Our Championship victories were a reward for all the effort they have put in,” said proud Ledesma.
Players to watch:
For Argentina: The return of big Ramiro Moyano on the left wing will offset the loss of the talented Bautista Delguy. The midfield duo of Matias Orlando and Jeronimo de la Fuente will trouble the reshuffled Aussie defence. Pablo Matera is the spark up front, while Agustin Creevy must be level-headed – unlike last week’s petulant performance.
For Australia: It is puzzling why Israel Folau is still on the wing, where he is a lot less effective than when playing at fullback. Kurtley Beale is back at inside centre, after a bitterly disappointing and highly ineffective spell at flyhalf. David Pocock and Michael Hooper will, as always, be crucial at the breakdown.
Head to head: There is no doubt the halfbacks hold the key to this encounter – Nicolas Sanchez and Gonzalo Bertranou (Argentina) against Bernard Foley (back in the starting XV after a spell on the bench) and Will Genia (Australia). The other key showdown will be in the scrums, where Argentina have been bitterly disappointing – Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina) versus Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a and Scott Sio (Australia).
Prediction: Argentina have never won back-to-back games against Australia, but now have a chance to do so after they beat the Wallabies 23-19 last month. Australia has won five of their last six games against the Pumas in Argentina, averaging 33 points per game in those five wins. Argentina’s record at Ernesto Martearena Stadium is split at three wins and three losses – Australia has never played a Test match at this ground. A loss or draw this weekend would see Australia finish The Rugby Championship at the bottom of the table; since The Rugby Championship began in 2012 in its current format, Australia has never finished last. Australia has lost their last four away games, scoring more than 12 points just once in that run; they will be out to avoid losing a fifth-straight game away from home for the first time since 2005. Argentina (83) have conceded the most second-half points this tournament, team; however, Australia has scored just 23 points in this period, the fewest of any team. Australia has not lost a scrum in either of their last two games, while Argentina (76 percent) have the worst scrum success rate this tournament. Argentina’s Santiago Medrano has completed 27/27 tackles this tournament, the most of any player yet to miss one. David Pocock has won 12 turnovers in The Rugby Championship this year, at least five more than any other player, averaging one every 27 minutes. Nicolas Sanchez (61) leads the tournament for most points and has scored nearly three times as many as Australia’s highest point scorer Matt Toomua (21); only Beauden Barrett and Aphiwe Dyantyi (both 5) have crossed for more tries than the Pumas flyhalf (4). The Australians’ nightmare is about to continue – with Argentina to win by 12 points.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Tom Banks.
Date: Saturday, October 5
Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta
Kick-off: 19.40 (22.40 GMT; 09.45, Sunday, October 6 AEDT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny and beautiful. High of 26°C and low of 10°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
@rugby365 & AFP