2019 Rugby Championships.

Round Two

The second round of the truncated 2019 Rugby Championship’s kicks-off at Westpac Stadium in Wellington where Australian Nic Berry is the referee as the All Blacks host the Springboks in a game that the New Zealand media have elevated to the status of “Blood Revenge” after last year’s loss to the South Africans at the same venue. 
The second match of the round in Brisbane will see New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe take charge of the Wallabies versus Pumas match at Suncorp Stadium.  

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3……….

Once again, all the selection indicators suggest that pre-World Cup experimentation continues across the Rugby Championships. The All Blacks are fielding their star flyhalf, Beauden Barrett, at fullback, with Richie Mo’unga starting at flyhalf. TJ Perenara gets a rare start, just his 14th test start in his 56th appearance. Perenara has come off the bench in 42 tests. Sonny Bill Williams gets a start alongside Jack Goodhue, with SBW back from injury and probably short a run or two to be fully fit. There are hints that Kieran Read may be switched to the side of the scrum later in the game as the All Blacks acknowledge that they are experimenting.

Australia have left out Dane Haylett-Petty, last week’s star performer Nick White, Bernard Foley and Tom Banks as they reshuffle their back division. Christian Lealiifano gets his first start in three years at flyhalf. Their wayward son, James O’Connor has been recalled onto the bench as Michael Cheika says that the reshuffle was about giving as many players as possible a chance to impress ahead of the World Cup in Japan later this year.

“I think it’s only logical that now we would use this opportunity to give everyone a chance to play footy,” he said.

A trial match then Michael?

South Africa are, perhaps, fielding the least experimental squad of the weekend, reverting to the tried and tested. Oh, except for fielding Kwagga Smith in only his second start in a Springbok 15’s jersey, and dumping Elton Jantjies from his perennial position on the bench in favour of Frans Steyn, and starting with Lukhanyo Am instead of Jesse Kriel at 13….

The Argentineans have also made a number of changes, bringing back European-based players Santiago Cordero and Facundo Isa and switching Joaquin Tuculet for Emiliano Boffelli, Tomas Lezana instead of Marcos Kremer and Julian Montoya coming in for the injured Agustin Creevy.

The injury to Creevy will test their depth and leadership somewhat.

So, on to the second round of the 2019 rugby laboratory that is the Rugby Championships. 

Saturday 27thJuly

New Zealand v South Africa
 

Vevue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington .                                                        .                                                  
Date Saturday 27 July
Kick-off 19h35 local; 07h35 GMT; 09h35 SA Time                                                                              
Referee Nic Berry (Australia)
AR1 Angus Gardner (Australia)
AR2 Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO Rowan Kitt (England)

The All Blacks and the Springbok teams are both finally all back together in their full groups after a weekend where a whole bunch of Crusaders and a couple of others stayed home when the All Blacks went over to Argentina, while the Springboks sent their “A” team to New Zealand to prepare for this weekend, while the “B” team took care of business against the Wallabies. 

Over in New Zealand there have been lots of mutterings about “Revenge” and “Remembering 2018” as they have sought to ramp up their own intensity and put some pressure onto the Springboks in the run-up to this Test match. Brodie Retallick has told reporters “I think it’s going to be a fiery one. The way we’ve approached it, with the boys who played in the (Super Rugby) final not going to Argentina, and the South Africans sending some of their team straight here, there are going to be some fresh bodies.”

“No doubt there is going to be plenty of energy and they won here last time in Wellington and obviously we want to be winning every time we play, so I guess it will be a big one. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The simple fact that the All Blacks are talking about this game in the media tells you that they were stung by last year’s loss and are plotting retaliation.

The mind games have been intense, with Rassie Erasmus getting a bit of an advantage over the New Zealanders by sending his squad over for some early preparation in New Zealand, a ploy that got the Springboks firmly, and slightly irritatingly, set in the minds of the locals, their presence something of a niggle before the crunch Test.

Despite the increased intensity as we await the kick-off of the Test that is likely to determine who will take home the Rugby Championships trophy in 2019, the game still has an element of a glorified trail match and warm-up run about it, as both teams certainly appear to have their minds focussed on the World Cup rather than the Rugby Championships.

Both coaches have spoken about their teams not being ready for the RWC, both have spoken about learning about their squad and combinations, both are “experimenting”….

If they are still learning, going to school as such, then Saturday’s Test might well be equivalent to the “Prelims” before the “Matric Finals” set down for examination in Japan.

It is going to be interesting!

Selections:

New Zealand

Steve Hansen named a team loaded with a wealth of experience to play South Africa in Wellington on Saturday.

Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks return as the starting front row, with last week’s front row of Ofa Tuungafasi, Dane Coles and Angus Ta’avao all on the bench.

Samuel Whitelock joins Brodie Retallick in the starting second row.

Shannon Frizell is at blindside flank, with Vaea Fifita moving to the bench, while Matt Todd is at No.7 and captain Kieran Read at the back of the scrum.

Dalton Papalii provides loose forward cover on the bench.

In the backs, TJ Perenara will start at scrumhalf and Aaron Smith is on the bench.

Beauden Barrett moves to fullback to make way for Richie Mo’unga at No.10.

Sonny Bill Williams returns to the All Blacks at No.12, inside Jack Goodhue at outside centre.

Rieko Ioane is on the left wing and with Barrett at fullback, Ben Smith moves to the right wing.

Anton Lienert-Brown and George Bridge are the other back reserves.

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 George Bridge.

South Africa:

Duane Vermeulen will lead the Springboks against the All Blacks on Saturday.

Rassie Erasmus has, as we expected, named a much-changed side from the one that defeated the Wallabies by 35-17 in Johannesburg last weekend.

Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are the only two starting forwards who were retained from the win over the Wallabies, with Makazole Mapimpi the only backline player in the starting line-up who started last weekend.

The rest of the Springbok starting line-up consists mainly of the group of players who travelled to New Zealand last Thursday, a few days before the rest of the South African tour party.

Willie le Roux returns at full-back while Cheslin Kolbe is drafted in on the right wing. Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am form a familiar looking midfield pairing and they will play next to Handré Pollard and Faf de Klerk.

Vermeulen, Du Toit and Kwagga Smith form the loose trio, with the former Blitzbok set to earn his second start in the Green and Gold following his international debut last year against Wales.

Franco Mostert partners Etzebeth in the second-row and Malcolm Marx is joined in the front-row by Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.

The forward bench consists of Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman and Francois Louw, while Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn and Jesse Kriel are the replacement backs.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel

Thoughts:

The All Blacks are desperately keen to avenge last year’s Rugby Championship loss to the Springboks in Wellington, but that desperation is tempered by a declared focus on the Rugby World Cup. Steve Hansen has said as much.  Winning the Rugby Championships is not an All Black priority.

“That’s no disrespect to the Rugby Championship, it’s just the way it happens to be in World Cup year,”he said.

“It means taking a few risks but we’re happy to do that,”he added.

And to emphasise his point, he has chosen to start both his world-class flyhalves, Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga, against the Springboks. Something of a gamble, perhaps, but he insists that it is all part of the New Zealanders’ World Cup planning.

There have been some loud and insistent questions in the New Zealand media and amongst the fans whether the rising star Mo’unga or two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Barrett is the better flyhalf. It seems that this question will now be put under the spotlight against the arch-enemy, the Springboks.  

Hansen said with the World Cup looming this crunch Test against the Springboks appeared to be the right time to experiment.

Having the two playmakers in the starting line-up is an indicator that the All Blacks will be looking at using a split attack option as much as possible, with a focus on taking the ball wide and then bringing it back the other way as quickly as possible in an effort to stretch the Springbok defenders out of shape.

This will be easier if they have two playmakers working together, one to direct the game in the initial direction, and the other to take over when the ball comes back across.

They have also been working on a counter to the Springbok’s rush defence that shut them down so effectively last year. In 2018 the Springboks focussed on closing the space in the 10 channel at the breakdowns, most especially when the All Blacks played their favoured 3-forward-pod-off-the-9 tactic after a ruck or maul in order to create space for their backs. The Springboks planned for this, with one defender running directly at Beauden Barrett’s inside shoulder to stop him coming inside, and the others running at his outside shoulder, to enable their running line to drift to the next receiver if he passed the ball, most usually the Kiwi inside centre. The Springboks looked to crowd whoever received the ball from Barrett and prevent him from setting up the play that allowed Barrett to execute his favoured loop run. It was a hugely successful ploy and the Springboks will surely be focussed on a similar approach in 2019. However, anyone watching their game against the Pumas last week would have picked up that the All Blacks have evolved their own play in order to counter this rush tactic. They are no longer playing the ball off-the-9 to the pod. They are using two of their bigger men as decoy runners to stop the first line of defenders for a moment, just causing the monetary hesitation, while passing the ball straight to their flyhalf, who then passes it to a wider pod of forwards on the run-around to set the ruck and recycle deeper into the midfield. This creates extra space by sucking in the midfield defenders and allows the All Blacks the option of taking the ball in close, or going wider straight afterwards, with a further option of playing the ball back in the direction that it had come from initially. 

We should keep an eye on their two-playmaker option in moments such as these, it could be hugely effective!

The Springboks are also a vastly different team to that which managed the almost unthinkable when they beat the All Blacks a year ago. That team was a somewhat desperate outfit, after losses to the Pumas and the Wallabies. They arrived in Wellington with their careers and the future of Springbok rugby once again on the line. The team that won in New Zealand showed the spirit, the guts, and the determination that had been missing from the Springboks for a very long time. That was the day the team gelled, and became real Springboks again. That was a team that played for each other.

And that is the team that will take on the All Blacks this year. A more confident, more experienced, and more focussed group.

The Springboks may be a little short of match-practice and thus overall fitness, after all, just three of this week’ team had a run last weekend. This may well count against them in the early exchanges as ring-rust will again provide a haze through which the game will be watched.

But then, so will many of the All Blacks be a little rusty, with 11 new faces and a couple of positional switches too. The match-fitness of the All Blacks will only be slightly better than that of the Springboks as the Crusader contingent played in the Super Final just three weeks back.

The Springboks are likely to focus on playing a very direct physical style of rugby, using their big forwards to batter the opposition in the contact situations, creating fatigue and searching for the weakness in the close in defence. They may well focus on the Mo’unga channel as his defensive frailties are a known factor, and they will be looking to take advantage of the All Black uncertainty over their loose-forward combination, with no stand-out candidate to take over Liam Squire’s blindside flanker job. The Springboks will be using their big men as their first option, especially in the first half, and only look to spread the ball once the advantage has been secured.

Handré Pollard will be looking at clever little chips and grubbers to create opportunities just behind Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue, with De Allende and Am chasing the kick through. This could be very effective as both Williams and Goodhue do not like turning to defend.

In contrast, the All Blacks are likely to try and take the ball away from contact, using their big men as an option rather than the default. They will vary their play by trying to exploit the perceived weaknesses of the Springbok wingers under the high ball, looking for Barrett, Smith, and Ioane to run onto pinpoint kick-passes by Mo’unga. They will look to Sonny Bill Williams to create the midfield set-up and play around and off him. It is what he does best when he is on form. With SBW as the midfield pivot, and the two playmakers, Mo’unga and Barrett, playing to the left and right off him, it could be a very explosive combination, but it would require all cylinders to be firing and all gears to be working flawlessly for the best results. It could be over complicated, which is not the All Black way.

In the set-pieces, the two teams appear fairly evenly matched, with the Springboks seeming to have a slight edge in both scrums and lineouts. I would suggest that these contests will probably end up even, with neither team having an outright advantage.

This brings us to the contest for the loose ball, in the rucks and mauls. The Springboks have selected Kwagga Smith as their chaser/fetcher, a role that is familiar to him at the Lions. It is his bread and butter game. His fetching role is supported by two of the finest turnover artists in rugby, Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx. These three face off against Matt Todd and, to a lesser extent, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor. I know who I would favour in that contest!

The major difference between the two loose trios is in their overall approach to the game. Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit take the direct route, with Smith the designated wide player. The All Black trio see Kieran Read usually playing out in the wider channels, while both Frizell and Matt Todd favour the midfield support runner role. None of the All Black trio like playing the direct game. They may well be forced to play closer than they like.

At the back the All Blacks simply ooze quality. The back three of Barrett, Smith, and Ioane all have great pace, with Ioane one of the bet finishers in the game of rugby. Barrett and Smith are hugely confident and competent under the high ball, both as kick chasers and as receivers, while Ioane will counter-attack with any ball that he gets his hands on. 

The Springbok back three have the quality and experience of Willie le Roux, who can also play the second play-maker role from breakdowns and midfield set-pieces, combining with the firecracker that is Cheslin Kolbe and the pace of Makazole Mapimpi. The latter is perhaps the one with a weakness under the high ball.

In the midfield the All Blacks do appear to have the edge. 

The known power and distribution skills of Sonny Bill Williams and the straight running Jack Goodhue up against the somewhat untested combination of De Allende and Am. Both the South Africans are very capable players, and when they are on form and in tune they can cause anyone problems, but their form, often a factor of how their team is playing around them, has been a little up-and-down in 2019, and they are untested as a combination. De Allende has his detractors, but he ended the Super Rugby season as the best inside centre in South Africa as far as playing stats are concerned, but there are still some questions about his playmaking ability. He seems to lack that X-factor sparkle that sets fire to those around him. Am has plenty of the sparkle, but has often been a lone warrior in a Sharks side that often eschewed the concept of playing wide. Whether the combination of the two will produce a whole that is better than the sum of the parts remains to be seen.

The pivots seem very evenly matched. Pollard has been the man around which the entire Bulls effort revolved in 2019, and has been cool, calm, and unflustered as he has managed games with silky skills and accuracy. His goal-kicking has been extraordinary. Mo’unga is a tricky, unpredictable runner – he will take on the defence at every opportunity, and controlled the Crusaders back division with a masterful aplomb that belies his youth. His kick passing has become a thing of beauty – pinpoint accuracy coupled to exceptional situational awareness. Playing behind a powerful Crusaders pack he was never tested on the back-foot to any great degree, which may be an area of focus for the Springboks.

His one weakness, perhaps, is his line-kicking, which has no great distance to it.

And then there are the scrumhalves. 

Faf de Klerk has matured into one of the best in the world, a hustle-bustle player that is as brave as, and as tough as a honey badger. He faces up to TJ Perenara, who can also rightfully claim to be one of the best in the world. They play similar games, with De Klerk perhaps the more opportunist of the two, while Perenara is a wonderful support player has an almost uncanny ability to pop up at the right place and moment to score the try.

In summary – we have two big, powerful packs of forwards, where the Springboks seem to have the slightest of edges. We have two backlines with explosive runners and great finishers, but where the All Blacks seem to have more than a slight edge.

In the loose, the Springbok trio seems to have the edge in the closer, more physical contest, while the All Blacks are better equipped for the sider game. The Springboks appear to have a solid edge in the contest for the ball on the ground.

And in the game management department, both teams seem to be equally well equipped.

Where will the balance lie? What will break the game one way or the other?

Perhaps it will be defence?

And that is where the Springboks have their experience of 2018 to call on. Their victory in Wellington was built on defence of almost extreme proportions. They locked the fortress gates and fought from the battlements until the All Blacks had bashed themselves senseless and started to make mistakes. They may well be looking to do that again.

However, have no doubt that the All Blacks will have been thinking of a key to unlock that Springbok fortress.

Prediction:

Predicting the outcome of this game is like choosing the winning numbers in the lottery. Whatever you choose, is likely to be wrong.

I am going with the All Blacks having home ground advantage, together with their desperate need to restore pride after the loss in 2019. Desperate stuff, for desperate times.

The All Blacks, by 8.

Australia v Argentina

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.                                                  .                   
Date Saturday 27 July
Kick-off 19h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time; 06h45 Arg Time.
Referee Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
AR1 Paul Williams (New Zealand)
AR2 Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Mario Ledesma and his Pumas will have taken plenty of positives out of their four-point loss to the All Blacks last week. They are talking about the confidence they have gained from the way they kept themselves in the fight for the entire match.

But, despite their performance last week, and both the Jaguares and the Pumas recent successes against Australia, the Pumas are refusing to be overconfident against the struggling Wallabies.

They will know that last week’s All Black team was somewhat diluted with many of the regular starters staying behind in New Zealand for an extra week’s rest. They will know that the All Blacks were ring rusty and a new combination in Buenos Aires. A new and untested Kiwi team against a team that has played together for most of the last 3 years. Just two weeks earlier 13 of the starting players had taken the field in a Jaguares jersey in Christchurch.

They will also know that the Wallabies, for all their wobbly moments, are a team that will be hurting badly, with the local media having had a field day as they gored their own team. 

A hurt, angry Wallaby outfit could be a very dangerous opponent.

And then there is the venue. Brisbane is something of a happy home-ground for the Wallabies. They seem to up their game when they play in Queensland, as the Suncorp faithful are probably the most loyal of Aussie fans and are likely to turn out in far greater numbers there than anywhere else in Australia.

The Wallabies need a win, by fair means of foul, simply to keep their detractors quiet and their own self-esteem alive.

The Argentineans will sense that they have the opportunity to do some serious psychological damage to the already wounded Wallaby – damage that could have a direct impact on the outcome of games in the Rugby World Cup.

I believe that this game will revolve around two things. The desperation of the Wallabies, and the killer-instinct of the Pumas.

Selections:

Australia:

Christian Lealiifano will start his first Test in three years against Argentina on Saturday while naughty boy James O’Connor is recalled to the bench as Michael Cheika experiments ahead of the World Cup.

Five changes have been made to the starting line-up and five among the replacements for the Brisbane match after the 17-35 defeat to South Africa in Johannesburg last weekend.

Leukaemia survivor Lealiifano returns for the first time since 2016 after a stellar Super Rugby season with the Brumbies.

He replaces Bernard Foley in a new-look backline alongside Will Genia, Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale as Cheika tests combinations, with Nic White, Tom Banks and Dane Haylett-Petty missing out.

Wing Koroibete returns after missing the South Africa match for the birth of his second child, while Beale is elevated to the starting fifteen at fullback.

Loosehead prop Scott Sio is the only change in the forward pack after recovering from a hamstring injury to replace James Slipper, who drops to the bench.

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:

European-based players Santiago Cordero and Facundo Isa will feature in their first game of the 2019 Rugby Championship after being named in the Argentina side to take on Australia.

Isa will play his first match for the Pumas since 2016 while Cordero will turn out having missed the previous couple of years.

They are two of five changes to the XV with Joaquin Tuculet replacing the rested Emiliano Boffelli, Tomas Lezana starting ahead of Marcos Kremer and Julian Montoya coming in for the injured Agustin Creevy.

That means there could be a debut for hooker Santiago Socino, who is among the replacements after joining the Jaguares earlier this year following six seasons in England.

There is also one positional alteration with Matias Moroni moving from the wing to outside centre, with Matias Orlando taking a place on the bench.

Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Matías Orlando

Thoughts:

We are told that the Wallabies are looking at playing a simplified, direct style of rugby in 2019. This is evidenced by their reliance on Samu Kerevi as their primary ball carrier throughout their game in Johannesburg last weekend. `All their plans seemed to revolve around playing off Kerevi.

I have to add that this does not seem to be a new style at all, this is the way they have played since Michael Cheika took over as coach, with just one variation. In previous seasons the Wallabies have bashed the ball up in the midfield, going through the phases, over and over again, but somehow not contriving to create the extra man. Their only variation has been for the back line to stand deep, and then shovel the ball to Israel Folau coming from fullback, be it into the midfield or out wide, and then hope that his superlative skills and running would create the opportunity for the rest of the team to run support lines and create scoring opportunities. If we could call that a multi-dimensional approach, then the new 2019 style of direct rugby may well be termed unidirectional.

Certainly, in Johannesburg there was little evidence of innovation, clever running lines and a new tactical approach. Perhaps this was down to the fact that Bernard Foley was managing the game from flyhalf and was placed under huge pressure by the Springboks? Perhaps Christian Lealiifano will do it differently?

The Wallabies will be playing a team that have perfected the simple, direct style of rugby which the Aussies aspire to. The Pumas, playing in their Jaguares jerseys, have practiced and produced a simple, direct style of ball carrying that allows their loose forwards to stay in the contest when the backs run into contact, with a quick recycle and a runner off the 9 to suck in more of the opposition, working to create the extra man out on the fringes. Pablo Matera is often the man to take advantage of the extra man as the opposition start to get thin in numbers, forcing the hole which his speedy wingers and fullback can run into.

The Pumas couple this low risk attacking style to some very solid defending.

Both teams have one glaring weakness – their scrums. Perhaps the Pumas were slightly the better of the two last weekend as they did not fully bend the knee to the power of the All Blacks, producing a solid, if creaky, scrummaging performance against the men in black. The Wallabies, in contrast, would be fooling themselves if they thought their scrum was anything other than woeful against the Springboks. The contest in this set-piece should be fairly even, although the Pumas may miss the influence and power of Augustin Creevy this week.

Both teams have a very good lineout, which will probably be a fairly even contest in Brisbane, while the Pumas have a very good lineout drive/maul, but the Wallabies have some very good maul-breakers in the likes of Rory Arnold. Once again, Creevy’s influence in the lineout drives will likely be missed.

I am puzzled by the Wallaby approach to the ball on the ground. Against the Springboks it seemed almost as if they decided to hang out of the ruck and defend the fringes rather than contest the ball. This could be a very serious mistake against the Pumas, who love to attack from quick ruck ball and, especially, turnovers.

The Wallaby loosies consist of two big ball-carriers, Isi Naisarani, and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, but neither are much of a fetcher or presence over the ball on the ground, while Michael Hooper, a great fetcher in previous years who has changed into a wide ranging ball chaser rather than a fetcher as he could rely on David Pocock to do the hard yards and fetch that ball. Hooper has become an infrequent contributor over the ball, and he may need to refocus on fetching rather than chasing if they want to beat the Pumas on the ground.

The Pumas may be missing their primary fetcher, Augustin Creevy, but they still have some master ball-poachers in Tomás Lezana, Pablo Matera, and their two locks, Tomás Lavanini, and Guido Petti. Their game is built on disrupting and slowing the opposition ruck ball, while looking for the turnover at every opportunity.

We shall watch with some interest as Facundo Isa returns to the Puma starting lineup. Before he left Super Rugby and the Pumas he was one of the finest ball-carrying loose forwards in the hemisphere, and his combination with Pablo Matera could be something wonderful to watch.

At the back, the two sets of players seem fairly evenly matched. The halfback combinations, Nicolás Sánchez and Tomás Cubelli versus Christian Lealiifano and Will Genia, seem well matched. The Wallaby midfield has size, while the Argentineans have some very solid defenders. Out wide, the Pumas seem to have the edge in pace, although the unpredictable Kurtley Beale may, or may not, have a huge influence, depending on which side of the bed he rolled out of on the morning of the Test match.

One of the glaring weaknesses in the Wallaby game is their defence. Against South Africa they seemed content to play the old-school defensive strategy of up-and-out tackling, while hanging back and waiting for the Springboks to come to them. This is totally at odds with the modern move to rush defence systems and it seems odd that the Wallabies are not playing the modern style.

Where they bamboozled by the Springbok backs lying deeper than anticipated, and thus inviting the Wallabies to run a long way if they wanted the rush to work? Did they opt out of rushing because they thought they could not get there?

Michael Cheika said he was very happy with their defence through most of the game, despite conceding five tries. I would suggest that he is just a little crazy.

In essence, if the Wallabies try and play the direct game, and get it slightly wrong, they will be overpowered at the rucks, allowing the Argentineans to play to their counter-attacking strengths. If they get it right, they may well force the Argentineans onto the back foot, which plays in the Wallaby favour. The unknown element in the mix is Christian Lealiifano and his game management at Test level. If the Wallabies are going forward, he may well spark something special with front-foot ball. But if they are going backwards?

The scrums and lineout should be fairly even, while the contest over the ball seems to tilt in favour of the Pumas. However, if the Wallabies can take advantage of the Pumas lack of depth, especially the missing Creevy factor, the Wallabies may well engineer the advantage.

Based on last week, it is difficult to make a call in favour of the home side.

Prediction:

Suncorp is something of a Wallaby fortress. That gives the advantage to the home team. But the glaring weaknesses in their style of play remain. Will passion, pain, and desperation carry them to a win?

I do not think so. Argentina by 10.