The Pumas have nothing to lose and everything to gain
Australia will be desperate to arrest a four-match losing streak when they face Argentina in Perth on Saturday.
The Ewen McKenzie era couldn’t have gotten off to a worse possible start with the Wallabies suffering three consecutive heavy defeats and anchoring the Rugby Championship log.
Add the decisive defeat to the British and Irish Lions in the third and final Test in July - Robbie Deans’s final match at the helm - and the beleaguered Wallabies are enduring their worst run since 2009.
With their team yet to open their Rugby Championship account, expectant Australian supporters are questioning the appointment of McKenzie ahead of Brumbies boss and World Cup-winning former Springbok coach Jake White and are demanding a victory over 10th-ranked Argentina.
The Pumas, however, won’t just roll over at Patersons Stadium and sense that the Wallabies are ripe for the picking. The visitors will be buoyed by their competitive performances against the Springboks in Mendoza and All Blacks in Hamilton and will be brimming with belief that they can break their Rugby Championship duck on Saturday.
It’ll certainly be their best chance yet to achieve their elusive goal. The Wallabies are vulnerable in this transitional period and the pressure will be squarely on them to deliver. The Pumas have nothing to lose and everything to gain and possess the pragmatic approach to humble the hosts.
The Springboks killed off the Wallabies at the source with superior physicality and set-piece prowess last weekend and the Pumas will aim to follow that blueprint after they dominated the All Blacks at scrum time.
Quade Cooper turned into a liability behind the back-pedalling pack, with the Springboks capitalising to rack up a record win, and if the Wallaby forwards are similarly outmuscled by the Pumas, they could implode on Saturday.
The set pieces and the breakdown are the be-all and end-all of this clash and whichever side gain ascendency in these facets are likely to come out on top.
Players to watch:
For Australia: All eyes will be on Ben Mowen as he captains his country for the first time. The Wallabies lacked leadership under Will Genia last weekend, the scrumhalf making some questionable calls and failing to lead from the front. He's a natural leader and took the Brumbies all the way to the Super Rugby Final. With just six Test caps to his name, Mowen is still finding his feet at the highest level and being handed the captaincy could elevate his game. His combination with Nic White, who’ll be making his first start at Test level, will be vital from a tactical point of view. White's selection could be a masterstroke as the Brumbies pair know each other well and he boasts the tactical-kicking nous to give the Wallabies some much-needed direction. He’ll also take the pressure off Quade Cooper while Genia's demotion to the bench could light a fire under him and be the catalyst for him returning to his brilliant best. Cooper has a point to prove after his shocker last weekend, Rob Simmons will be the key man in the line-out and the returning Sitaleki Timani will add some grunt off the bench.
For Argentina: The all-new midfield pairing of Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Tiesi will have to front up on defence and make the Wallabies work for every inch. They’ll also need to earn the hosts’ respect with ball in hand and not be predictable on attack, while Juan Imhoff, Tomás Cubelli and Agustín Creevy will want to make the most of their starting opportunities.
Head to head: As aforementioned, the front row battle between James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander and Marcos Ayerza, Agustín Creevy and Juan Figallo at scrum time will carry added significance in this contest. The Pumas have been excellent in adapting to the new engagement sequence and will look to use their powerful scrum as an attacking weapon and to squeeze penalties out of the hosts. Alexander has been brought in to stabilise the Wallaby scrum while the selection of Creevy won’t weaken the Pumas scrum and could have a positive spin off on the visitors’ erratic line-out. The other key duel will be that of Michael Hooper and Pablo Matera. Hooper ranks among the best fetchers in the world and has done a credible job filling the considerable boots of the injured David Pocock. Matera is just starting his Test career and would make a major statement should he upstage the more experienced Hooper. With his back row partners Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamón boasting over 100 Test caps between them, Matera certainly won’t lack any confidence.
2012: Australia won 25-19, Rosario
2012: Australia won 23-19, Gold Coast
2003: Australia won 24-8, Sydney
2002: Australia won 17-6, Buenos Aires
2000: Australia won 32-25, Canberra
2000: Australia won 53-6, Brisbane
1997: Argentina won 18-16, Buenos Aires
1997: Australia won 23-15, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The Wallabies face a test of physicality and character and while they’ll struggle to win the former, McKenzie’s personnel changes suggest they’ll pass the latter. It should be a close contest for the most part, but the point of difference will be the impressive Wallaby bench. Wallabies by five.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (captain), 5 Julio Farías Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guiñazú, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Fernández, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Date: Saturday, September 14
Venue: Patersons Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 18.05 (20.05 AEST; 07.05 Argentina time; 10.05 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly clear and cold with a 19km/h SSW wind. A high of 18° and low of 10°.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld