Argentina v Australia - teams and prediction
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: Argentina’s Australian coach Michael Cheika is expecting a tough battle up front in the Pumas’ Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies in Mendoza on Saturday.
Cheika made six changes to the pack he picked in last month’s series decider against Scotland for the clash against Dave Rennie’s side.
Captain and hooker Juan Montoya returns in a completely new front row while Cheika also made two changes in the back row and one at lock.
Cheika is expecting fireworks from both packs as he builds his team with one eye on next year’s World Cup in France.
“We’re still only one month together as a coaching team and playing group,” said Cheika.
“We’re focussing on ourselves and the combinations we have within the team, communication, game plan, technique on the most important thing in this game: the scrum, maul, ruck. That’s very important for our team.”
Asked if he had any specific goals for this tournament – in which Argentina have finished with the wooden spoon eight times in 10 previous participations – Cheika showed the Rugby Championship was secondary to his main target.
“The objective is very clear for us, it is putting the team in a situation where they can be competitive with all the big teams: top-ranked teams, middle-ranked teams and teams that are coming up because that’s what we will meet in the World Cup.”
Argentina lost every match in last season’s Rugby Championship and failed to even pick up a losing bonus point – their tightest game being a 15-point defeat.
But the Pumas were thrown into disarray more than most by the COVID pandemic which saw their Jaguares Super Rugby franchise effectively broken up and their players all looking for new employers.
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‘Full of confidence’
Until July’s series against Scotland, Argentina had not played at home in almost three years.
And while they haven’t beaten Australia since 2018 – although they drew both tournament matches in 2020 – Rennie believes they will be a different proposition to 12 months ago.
“Argentina will be full of confidence after their home series win over Scotland and we know we’ll need to be at our best to get a good result on Saturday afternoon,” Rennie said.
Rennie has also freshened up his side with seven changes from the team that lost their series decider against England last month, including a debut for blindside Jed Holloway and a return from injury for mercurial flyhalf Quade Cooper.
The Pumas have changed coaches since last season with former Wallabies head coach Cheika taking over from Mario Ledesma and Australia centre Len Ikitau has already seen a different style under his countryman.
“Obviously last year we played them, we won both games but we know they are a different type of team [now],” he told reporters.
“We’ve watched some footage of them, the way they counter, they don’t really kick as much as they used to compared to recent years.
“We know they’re going to be dangerous from all over the park. For us it’s about fronting up in defence and staying switched on.”
Australia has not won the Rugby Championship since the truncated 2015 tournament leading up to the World Cup that year.
But with back-to-back games against first Argentina and then South Africa, they have the ideal preparation ahead of their final two matches against the tournament’s dominant force, New Zealand.
“I guess they’re build-up games for us and as a team, we need to play the footy we know we can play and keep building on every week up to the All Blacks matches,” said Ikitau.
In 36 previous clashes between the two sides, Argentina has won just six times with three draws and 27 Wallaby wins.
Players to watch
For Argentina: Captain Julian Montoya’s return is among nine changes to the Los Pumas team. only two forwards and four backs retained starting spots for the Pumas, who trumped Scotland 34-31 after coming from 15 points down with 30 minutes to go in Santiago del Estero. Hooker Montoya, scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli and wing Santiago Cordero will be on deck in Mendoza after missing that third Test because of injuries. Jeronimo de la Fuente will resume his centre pairing with Matias Orlando in midfield, as he did in the first two Scotland games. The reserves include tighthead Joel Sclavi and scrumhalf Lautaro Bazan Velez, who made their debuts in the series, and uncapped flyhalf Tomas Albornoz, who didn’t get off the bench in Santiago del Estero.
For Australia: Jed Holloway is in line to make his Australian debut, while prop Matt Gibbon is also due to make his debut off the bench. There are injury recalls for flyhalf Quade Cooper and wing Jordan Petaia. Cooper missed the entire series against England last month – which Australia lost one-two despite snapping an eight-match losing run against Eddie Jones’s team – after injuring his calf warming up for the first Test. He replaces Noah Lolesio, while Petraia returns from a concussion on the right wing with Tom Wright switching to fullback and Reece Hodge dropping to the bench. Len Ikitau comes into the centres in place of Samu Kerevi and there are four changes in the pack. Prop Allan Alaalatoa and hooker Folau Fainga’a replace Taniela Tupou and David Porecki respectively, Darcy Swain comes in for Nick Frost at lock and Holloway gets the nod over Harry Wilson at blindside.
Head to head
Australia is undefeated in their last six men’s Tests against Argentina (four wins and two draws). In fact, the Wallabies have won six of their last seven games against the Pumas when playing in Argentina – including their last three in succession. Argentina has won three of their last five men’s Tests and will be looking to secure back-to-back wins for the first time since November 2020 – when they followed up a victory against the United States (47-17) with a historic 25-15 win over New Zealand. Australia has won just one of their last nine Tests played outside Australia (one draw and seven defeats), picking up a 32-23 win over Japan in October 2021 during that stretch. However, two of their last three such defeats have come by margins of just two points or fewer. Australia has won just one of their last six Test matches and has not led at half-time in any match during that period; five of those six games have been decided by margins of just eight points or fewer.
@rugby365com: Australia by eight points
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallía, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martín González Samso, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Thomas Gallo, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazán Vélez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni.
Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Reece Hodge.
Date: Saturday, August 6
Venue: Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
Kick-off: 16.10 (19.10 GMT; 05.10 AEST Sunday, August 7)
Expected weather: Cool, with intervals of clouds and sunshine. No real chance of precipitation. High of 11°C and low of 5°C
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen [South Africa]
* Picture credit: Wallabies Media/Andrew Phan
* Stats provided by Opta Data