Preview: Australia v Argentina
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FOUR: Michael Cheika says Argentinian counterpart Mario Ledesma is like family, but the deadly serious Wallabies boss is in no mood for banter as he faces his former forwards coach on Saturday.
The two men worked side-by-side for the Waratahs and then Australia until the end of the 2017 season, when Ledesma was appointed coach of Super Rugby side the Jaguares and then the Pumas.
They are close, but the friendship has been temporarily put aside, and Cheika was not impressed by assistant Wallabies coach Stephen Larkham joking with reporters this week about Ledesma.
“I’m not that into it, if you know what I mean,” he said of the banter.
“I get the joke and everything but like I said, there won’t be any joking on Saturday. It’s going to be a big confrontation.”
Cheika was speaking after Larkham told media, tongue in cheek, that Ledesma “struggled as an assistant coach. I can’t see how he’s had the limited success he’s had already”.
The Wallabies go into the Rugby Championship clash on the Gold Coast upbeat after beating South Africa 23-18 last weekend to end a four-Test losing streak.
They also have a mental edge, having beaten the Pumas in 15 of their last 16 Tests.
Despite being odds-on favourites, Cheika is taking nothing for granted with Argentina much improved under Ledesma’s stewardship.
They upset the Springboks 32-19 in Mendoza recently and put up a spirited performance against the All Blacks last weekend.
“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that we don’t need to work harder this week than the week before,” said Cheika. “This is a pivotal Test for both nations.”
The Wallabies will be without skipper Michael Hooper, who pulled out on Friday with a hamstring injury.
But they have been boosted by the return from injury of breakdown specialist David Pocock, who takes over as captain, and Israel Folau, who will start on the wing rather than his favoured fullback spot for the first time in five years.
It is a gamble by Cheika, who has opted to keep Dane Haylett-Petty in the number 15 jersey after two standout displays in Folau’s absence.
The tactical shift follows veteran Bernard Foley being dumped for the Springboks clash in favour of Kurtley Beale at fly-half and Matt Toomua at inside centre, with the combination retained for Argentina.
Pocock said the Wallabies were wary of Argentina under Ledesma, who he described as “a great man”.
“He mixes an abrasive big forward pack with some real flair out wide, so you’ve really got to cater for everything in defence,” he said.
“And they’ve got some really good guys on the breakdowns. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Argentina’s scrum has long been considered the rock their game is built around, but it struggled against the All Blacks, with Ledesma, himself a former hooker, admitting it had been “torn apart”.
In a bid to fix their problems, prop Santiago Medrano has been brought in to the starting XV for Garcia Botta and blindside flanker Pablo Matera returns in place of Tomas Lezana.
After resting last weekend, Gonzalo Bertranou is back at scrum-half with Martin Landajo relegated to the bench.
Lock Guido Petti, who will be playing his 40th Test, said they were expecting a “complicated game”.
“They have a very dynamic game, a lot of variants and attack options,” he said.
“We have to try and counteract that by keeping the ball and our formation. If we do that, we will have a great game.”
Players to watch:
For Australia: The return of Israel Folau, on the wing, will spark plenty of interest. Matt Toomua was the star last week and alongside flyhalf Kurtley Beale. They will again be key. David Pocock, back as captain and in the absence of Michael Hooper, will be the spark in the engine room.
For Argentina: You will always look at creative backs like Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Jeronimo de la Fuente and Nicolas Sanchez. However, it is up front where Los Pumas must get the edge – with captain Agustin Creevy the driving force.
Head to head: The playmakers – Kurtley Beale (Australia) and Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina) – will always be important. But the entertainment value will come from the scrumhalves – Will Genia (Australia) and Gonzalo Bertranou (Argentina). Los Pumas’ scrum has been under pressure throughout this competition, which means the battle between Allan Alaalatoa, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Scott Sio (Australia) versus Santiago Medrano, Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina will also play an important role.
Prediction: Australia has won 15 of their last 16 games against Argentina, including their last six games on the bounce where they have scored an average of 36 points per match. Australia has lost just one of their 14 Tests against Argentina in Australia, having not lost against them on home soil since the Argentines visited Australia for the first time in 1983. Australia has won their only two previous games at Robina Stadium, each time against Argentina; however, the Wallabies have won by just four points and seven points (their most recent encounter here in 2014) in this time. Argentina has only one Test victory to their name so far in 2018; the last time they won only a single Test in a calendar year was in 2000. Last week was the first time in seven games that Argentina scored more than seven second-half points in a Rugby Championship game, notching up 17 second-half points against New Zealand. Australia will be searching for back-to-back wins in The Rugby Championship for the first time since 2016, after beating South Africa 23-18 in Brisbane last week. Australia has averaged the fewest metres gained of any team in this campaign, averaging just 400 metres per game after gaining only 253 metres against South Africa last week. Argentina (two) and Australia (two) have conceded the fewest penalty goals in this tournament but have conceded the most tries (Argentina 15, Australia 14). Australia’s Matt Toomua’s personal points haul of 15 last week was the most in his Test career – in fact, he had only scored 20 points in total prior to the clash with South Africa and had never kicked a goal for his country. Only Ben Smith (seven) has made more offloads in The Rugby Championship this year than Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez (six), the flyhalf became Argentina’s top points scorer of all time last week. Argentina played their best game against South Africa in Mendoza. They also showed last week they can be competitive, but the Australians now have their tails up and should win by 12 points.
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Will Genia, 8 Pete Samu, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 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 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Date: Saturday, September 15
Venue: Robina Stadium, Gold Coast
Kick-off: 20.00 (07.00 Argentina time; 10.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Sunshine & pleasant, but breezy in the afternoon. High of 25° and a low of 17°C
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
@rugby365com & AFP
* Stats provided by Opta Sport