2018 Rugby Championships

Argentina vs Australia

Saturday, October 6

Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta
Kick-off: 19:40 local, 23:40 BST, 22:40 GMT, 00:40 SA Time
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

 

Dane Haylett-Petty has said that the Wallabies are more concerned about fixing their mistakes than they are about the actual result of this final Rugby Championships game against Argentina. However, I would suggest that he is deluded if that is all the Wallabies are playing for!

The Wallabies, and their under-fire coach Michael Cheika, need a win and Wallabies fans won’t care how it’s done.

They do not care whether the Wallabies play exciting, entertaining open running rugby or dour forward oriented crash-ball rugby. They do not care how or why the players have different agendas to those of the fans, all the Aussie rugby fans care about right now is winning a Test match!

Michael Cheika’s popularity has plummeted after last month’s loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast – The Wallabies’ first defeat to the Pumas at home since 1983. The ongoing loss of popularity entered a new phase of free-fall after last week’s loss to South Africa, especially when the Aussie coach served up his usual mix of complaints about the referee and never-ending platitudes about the positive signs he saw in his team despite their lack of execution. The fans are tired of hearing about gutsy defeats, and building pressure and creating opportunities, but somehow just not being able to finish off with a score.

The fans have had enough of the Wallabies ongoing losses. Their pride has taken a severe hammering, and we all know that the Aussies are a proud people, especially when supporting one of their sports teams.

The only thing that now stands between Michael Cheika and a rising cacophony of demands for his resignation will be a victory in Salta this weekend. There’s no allowance now for another “gutsy” defeat and more positive signs and “failure to finish off” platitudes. Within the context of building towards next year’s World Cup there have already been loud voices suggesting that Cheika should step aside immediately and give someone else the opportunity to select and work with the team in the 10 Tests that remain between now and the kick-off of the World Cup in Japan.

We know that Cheika is a street-fighter with plenty of mongrel when the fight gets dirty, and we know that he will hang onto his job with everything he can muster.

But he needs a win this weekend, or even bleeding fingernails hanging on to the jagged edge of the proverbial precipice might not be enough to save him from receiving Australia’s “Order of the Boot” – if I may quote Churchill completely out of context. (He had just won a war when he was kicked out in a General Election.)

Argentina will be going into this game with a completely different mind-set. Theirs is not a struggle for survival. Nor is it about “fixing what went wrong” last weekend. The Argentineans are playing with a different goal in mind. They will be hoping to pick up back-to-back wins over Australia for the first time in their history.

A win would also rewrite the history books in another way. It would condemn Australia to the last place on the log for the first time in the Rugby Championships history, and would also be the first time that Argentina did not finish last in the competition.

This is an Argentinean team that are playing with a new-found self-belief, and with a focus and intensity that has been missing since 2015. The influence of Mario Ledesma as coach cannot be underestimated.

Less than a year away from the World Cup, both teams will be looking at this game as critical to their overall preparations, but each with a different focus. One team is desperate to survive and rebuild, the other wants to build on recent achievements and the progress that they have shown in the last three months.

It will be interesting to watch, but I doubt that I will stay up for this game as I did for last week’s clash between Argentina and the All Blacks.

This time I will be watching a recording of the game.

Match-Day 23s

Argentina

Wing Ramiro Moyano has recovered from a rib injury and is named in Argentina’s starting line-up to face Australia in Salta on Saturday.

He is one of two changes to the XV for the Rugby Championship game this weekend with head coach Mario Ledesma also bringing in Matias Orlando.

Orlando comes into the team for Bautista Ezcurra as Jeronimo de la Fuente shifts to his preferred position of inside centre, while Moyano replaces Bautista Delguy with Moroni moving to the right wing.

The pack remains the same but there are a couple of changes among the substitutes as Santiago Garcia Botta and Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias return to the squad.

Australia

Bernard Foley has reclaimed the Wallabies’ flyhalf position against Argentina in Salta.

Foley has been named to start at fly-half for the first time in four Tests.

As expected, Kurtley Beale moves to inside centre for the clash while Toomua is among the replacements for his last Test before returning to Premiership side Leicester.

The playmaking reshuffle is the only change to the starting side with head coach Michael Cheika opting on the whole to stick with the team that faced South Africa in Port Elizabeth.

Cheika has named an extended bench for the clash with one of Rory Arnold or Rob Simmons likely to drop out when the team is trimmed for this weekend’s Test against the Pumas.

Tolu Latu returns to the 23 after linking up with the squad in Argentina in place of injured hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Folau Fainga’a will start for the second week in a row in Polota-Nau’s absence, with Brandon Paenga-Amosa left out of the squad.

Number eight Caleb Timu comes into the 23 for the first time since the third June Series Test against Ireland, pipping potential debutant Angus Cottrell for the spot.

Thoughts

During the last couple of Test matches there have been many questions asked about Michael Cheika’s selection policy.

No question has been asked quite as loudly or frequently as his decision to send Kurtley Beale out to play flyhalf. This “experiment” started with the home Test against South Africa when, despite Australia scraping a win, nobody seemed to think that Beale was actually a good choice at flyhalf. Nobody, of course, except for Michael Chieka himself. He selected Beale in the same position a week later, when the Argentineans came to town, and beat the Wallabies for the first time in Australia since 1983.

Again the media, the pundits, the commentators, and the fans thought the choice of Beale at flyhalf was wrong.  Once again, many thought the “experiment” was over.

It was not to be. Almost as if he was reluctant to acknowledge that he might have made a mistake by fielding Beale as a flyhalf, Cheika did it again a week ago. He again sent Beale out as the flyhalf against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Once again, the decision was deemed a failure.

Finally the Three-Test-Experiment has ended and Bernard Foley has been recalled into the flyhalf berth.

Cheika has justified his selection Beale and the benching of Foley as an opportunity for Foley to refresh his body and mind, and find some form. I am not sure how a player finds form while sitting on the bench, but I frequently do not understand Michael Cheika’s thinking, and I am not going to try and work it out now.

I will also not try to work out why Matt Toomua has been dropped to the bench. In my view he was the steadiest and most focussed of the entire Wallaby backline collective in the past three Tests. If Cheika is looking for an alternative to Foley’s somewhat pedestrian style of play, perhaps Toomua was the answer at flyhalf? He certainly possesses a more educated and accurate tactical boot than does Kurtley Beale, and he brings more physicality to the game than does Foley. His distribution skills are well known.

The decision to play Israel Folau out on the wing must also be questioned. I have not seen him add any value whatsoever to the Wallaby attack or defence out on the wing. He waits for the ball to be fed to him, he certainly does not pass it once he has it in his hands. (Remember that no-pass to an unopposed Bernard Foley in the loss to Argentina?) His tackling is suspect, and his one great strength, the counter-attack off the deep kick up the midfield is missing when he is isolated out on the wing. His kick-chasing will always be a feature of his game, but out on the wing the opportunities are limited to those few times that kicks are aimed across to his area of the field.

There are other questions to be asked about selections too. Why is Ned Hanigan still in the team? Why is David Pocock playing at 8 when he is clearly the best flanker in the whole of Australia? Why is Taniela Toupo starting another Test when it was clear that he is not yet ready for the starting role and should be used as an impact player later in the game?

So many “whys” for Michael Cheika to answer, yet so few real answers from the man himself.

Let’s be blunt. The Wallabies are on a horrible run of form with just one win in their last five starts. The coach and the players have constantly assured their fans and critics that they are “working to a plan” and “building for 2019” but there has been scant evidence of this plan and building effort. If we look at the whole of 2018, including the Test series against Ireland, there seems to be zero improvement and plenty of backsliding.

Yet, once again the team has promised improvements. Although the comment by Dane Haylett-Petty that the Wallabies are more concerned about fixing their mistakes than they are about the actual result of this Test might be an indicator of a team that has lost a whole lot more than just form. It does seem as if their confidence has gone too!

This Test in Argentina will provide an indication of just how much fight is left in this Wallabies side. Will they fight back, or will they, once again, surrender meekly, and blame the referee and talk about all the positives they are taking from the game?

The Wallabies have much to fix. Their scrum has been the best of their game, fairly solid, if not spectacular. Their lineouts have been as wobbly as a half-set jelly, their contest over the ball has been left in the sole, yet very capable, hands of David Pocock as both the other loose forwards play their own private games of rugby. Michael Hooper is off playing wing at every opportunity, while Ned Hanigan wanders the field like some forlorn lost ghost. All too often he could be likened to Casper the Friendly Ghost of comic book fame. The opposition will recognise him as a ghost, but will know that he probably isn’t out to get them. He certainty does very little damage wherever he is floating around.

The back division seems devoid of ideas and excitement, seeming to be playing the game by the numbers in some playbook. Their penetration has been woeful and their finishing is more a rumour than an actuality. Far too much is placed on the shoulders of Kurtley Beale as the chief playmaker, which seems to drain him of the enterprise that he can show if left to his own devices.

If the Wallabies want to win this one they will have to step up their game in almost every department, across the entire team. The stars will need to produce the magic, and the journeymen will need a good, solid day in the factory.

They must know that they are up against a Pumas side that is equally desperate for a win, but have some very big problems of their own.

A week ago their scrum was absolutely monstered by the All Blacks. They seemed to be clueless with regard to basics such as binding and body position in the scrum, and their legendary second shove has deserted them completely.

This has been a problem all season, even in their two wins over South Africa and Australia.

However, the Pumas do have one of the form players of the year in Nicolas Sanchez at flyhalf. He has been in superlative form as a tactician, playmaker, and as a support runner. Under his guidance the Argentineans have become a team that is happy to carry the ball forward all day long.

This attacking, ball carrying Puma threat presents something of a challenge to the Aussies! Their tackling has been better in the last three games, especially with Matt Toomua in the midfield and managing the defence. The return of Beale to the midfield might cost them dearly as his defence can only be termed woeful. I have no doubt that Sanchez will be targeting the Beale channel with some very direct running.

The contest in the lineouts seems to be favouring the Pumas, with their ball-stealing as good as anyone else in the world today. We have heard talk of Adam Coleman calling for the Wallabies to keep the lineouts simple and to eschew the weird and wonderful run-arounds and bobbing and weaving in favour of straight throws to designated jumpers. A bit of old-school lineout work then?

The contest over the ball will be interesting, the two master-poachers of the Rugby Championships face off as Augustin Creevy goes head-to-head with David Pocock. Much will depend on the support players for both these men, with those that get the most effective clean-outs going probably winning this contest. Here the Pumas seem to be just a short-head better than the Wallabies, especially when the likes of Hanigan, Hooper, Tupou, Fainga’a and Sio like to spread wide as potential first receivers and ball carriers. Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Javier Ortega Desio are three loosies that play closely together and towards the ball, preferring to support Creevy’s ball stealing and slowing efforts with direct play rather than floating around out wide.

At halfback the Aussies seem to have the edge, with Will Genia often seeming to be the only man standing between the Wallabies and a complete whitewash. He has been the rock around which the stormy waves have broken and crashed as he has stood impervious. There is one minor problem, called fatigue. We have seen this in the entire Rugby Championships – Genia runs out of legs and steam around 50 minutes into the game, hangs on for another 10 minutes or so, and then has to shuffle off and make way for the much lesser substitute, Nick Phipps.

The flyhalves could not be more different. The excitement and intuitive play of Sanchez, on top form too, up against the conservative ball distributor Foley. Sanchez makes the plays, Foley feeds the ball to Beale, who then makes the plays. At this time, Sanchez is the form flyhalf in the competition.

Amongst the backs, the contest seems pretty even, perhaps weighted slightly in the favour of the Pumas who have had a more penetrative season, scoring 14 tries with 28 clear line breaks to the Aussies 10 tries and 22 line breaks.

Perhaps one more difference between the two teams – the physicality of their attack. The Argentineans have never been shy of the physicality of the game. They thumped into the All Blacks last week, albeit in losing cause. The Aussies, in contrast, have seemed just a little lightweight in contact. They lack the general physicality of their hosts. At times last Saturday against South Africa it seemed like men against boys, as the Springboks’ relentlessly knocked over and drove back the battered and bruised Wallaby ball-carriers.

This is a game where we will be looking for both teams to improve on their weaknesses. And that might just be a problem for the visitors. They seem to have a couple of extra weaknesses that their hosts do not have.

Prediction

The Salta clash will take place in unfamiliar surrounding for the Wallabies. They have never played at Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena while Argentina have won three and lost three at the venue.

Australia’s poor form on the road is another factor that must influence anyone looking to make a prediction for this Test. The Aussies have lost their last four away games, scoring more than 12 points just once in that string of games.

The Wallabies struggled physically against South Africa last week, while the Pumas fronted up to most of the All Black attack, while being blown away in the set-pieces.

And then there is the pressure of expectation, the added pressure of playing for survival, and the fatigue of yet another long-haul flight in the week after a losing Test in South Africa. Those  pressures and fatigue might well be the straw that breaks the Wallaby’s back.

I am giving this one to the Pumas.

The Pumas, by 9 points or more.

The teams:

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 (c), 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 (c), 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 Rory Arnold, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Matt Toomua, 24 Tom Banks