Preview: Australia v Argentina
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND TWO: Australia coach Michael Cheika insists the embattled Wallabies are heading in the right direction ahead of the World Cup.
His upbeat assessment came ahead of facing a stiff Test on Saturday against a dangerous Argentina.
The Wallabies won just four of 13 games last year – their worst campaign in decades – and after a 35-17 loss in the Rugby Championship opener against South Africa in Johannesburg last weekend the pressure is on again.
Despite two disallowed tries last week, the Wallabies had chances to stay in the hunt, but failed to convert them, something Cheika wants to see fixed.
“Making opportunities isn’t good enough, taking them is what it’s about,” he said.
“We’ve just got to understand the momentum of the game, when we’ve got the flow and it’s happening to have a real go at it – show our hand.
“That’s probably the thing we need to work on the most and translate those opportunities into points.”
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Cheika has just four more opportunities to nail down his best combination ahead of the World Cup in Japan later this year, starting with Mario Ledesma’s fast-improving Pumas in Brisbane.
He has picked a new-look backline, with cancer-survivor Christian Lealiifano starting his first Test in three years at flyhalf.
The Brumbies skipper replaces Bernard Foley alongside scrumhalf Will Genia, winger Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale at fullback, with Nic White, Tom Banks and Dane Haylett-Petty missing out.
Prop Scott Sio returns from a hamstring injury to replace James Slipper.
“What’s important about a World Cup is having a squad that you can have injuries, games where you need to rotate, to have players or groups of players that can come in at different times is critical for us,” skipper Michael Hooper said.
“Guys have moved into starting positions this week and it’s been pretty seamless.”
Genia will be playing his last Test in Brisbane before retiring from international duty after the World Cup, while bad boy utility back James O’Connor is set to make his first appearance in six years, off the bench, since having his contract ripped up for misbehaviour.
Argentina, who agonisingly lost to the All Blacks 20-16 in Buenos Aires last weekend, has also made five changes to their run-on side with veteran hooker Agustin Creevy omitted due to injury.
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma will hope to upset the Wallabies in Brisbane after last week’s agonising loss to the All Blacks.
Most of the Pumas play for Super Rugby club Jaguares and are coming off their best-ever season, making the final. That quality was on show against New Zealand where they were desperately unlucky not to win after sustained late pressure.
Ledesma, a former forwards coach with Australia, said there were a lot of positives going forward.
“It was disappointing last weekend, we could have won. Obviously, those four points is not a big difference, but it means we still have work to do to win those kind of games,” he said this week, pointing to neutralising Australia’s pack as key in Brisbane.
“The Wallabies I think are playing a more direct style of rugby, especially because they have very big guys… so it will be a challenge to stop their momentum.”
Australia has lost just of one their last eight games against Argentina – on home soil last year.
Players to watch:
For Australia: Christian Lealiifano, starting his first Test in three years, will be pivotal to the Wallaby cause. The Leukaemia survivor Lealiifano returns for the first time since 2016. He replaces the badly out-of-form Bernard Foley in a new-look backline. Other significant selections include Will Genia at scrumhalf and Kurtley Beale at fullback. The game will be poignant for 101-Test scrumhalf Genia, who will be playing in Brisbane for the last time after announcing his retirement from the international scene after the World Cup. Beale is starting at fullback, as coach Michael Cheika looks for a replacement for Israel Folau.
For Argentina: The injury-enforced absence of veteran hooker Agustin Creevy propels Julian Montoya into the spotlight. Toulon back row forward Facundo Isa starts at No.8 in place of Javier Ortega Desio, while Tomas Lezana is at blindside flank instead of Marcos Kremer. The forward is tasked with dominating the set pieces in the hope that the backs could secure a rare Los Pumas win in Brisbane.
Head to head:
As with all internationals, there are intriguing contests all over the park. However, the first stop is at flyhalf – Christian Lealiifano (Australia) versus Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina), two very skilful and seasoned players. The key aspects of the game are the set pieces, particularly the scrums – where Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga’a and Scott Sio (Australia) versus Juan Figallo, Julian Montoya and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina).
Prediction: Australia has won 16 of their last 18 games against Argentina, including a 45-34 win in their last encounter – the highest total score ever between the two nations. This will be the first meeting between Australia and Argentina at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. However, the Pumas won on their most recent visit to Australia (September 2018) – their first win over the Wallabies in Australia since 1983. Australia has won only two of their last seven games played in The Rugby Championship. However, one of those wins came against Argentina while the other came at Suncorp Stadium. Australia has won their last five games on the bounce at Suncorp Stadium – four by a single-digit margin – and haven’t lost at the venue since June 2016 (vs England). Argentina has won only two of their last 15 Tests played away from home, including defeats in each of their last three such fixtures. Argentina has lost their last six games on the bounce; the last time they lost more in succession was a seven-game stretch from August to November in 2017. Australia conceded just 291 metres gained in Round One of The Rugby Championship 2019, the fewest of any team and 183 metres fewer than their game average from the 2018 edition. Michael Hooper (Australia) is set to play his 14th Test match at Suncorp Stadium; only Stephen Moore (16) has played more at the venue. Bernard Foley (Australia) has scored 124 points in 11 games against Argentina, more than any other player in Test history. Jeronimo De La Fuente (Argentina) was the only player to make more than 10 carries and more than 10 tackles during Round One of The Rugby Championship 2019 (11 carries, 12 tackles).
Prediction: Australia by more than 10.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Luke Jones, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 James O’Connor.
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Matias Orlando
Date: Saturday, July 27
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.45 (09.45 GMT; 06.45 Argentina time)
Expected weather: Clear to partly cloudy. High of 25°C and a low of 10°C
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Sources: @rugby365 & AFP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sport