By: Quintin van Jaarsveld
With all and sundry eagerly anticipation the Rugby Championship decider between the Springboks and the All Blacks in Johannesburg on Saturday, the match between Argentina and Australia is an afterthought in most rugby enthusiasts’ minds.
It’s not a complete dead rubber, though, as it will be the Pumas’ best chance yet to claim their maiden win in the four-nation tournament, while the embattled Wallabies will be determined to avoid the wooden spoon.
Off-field drama has compounded the Wallabies’ woes in the lead-up to Saturday’s match with No.8 Ben Mowen reportedly locked in a payment dispute with the Australian Rugby Union and utility back James O’Connor seeing his Wallaby contract torn up due to disciplinary issues – hardly ideal circumstances for an already struggling outfit.
The Pumas’ winless record suggests that they, too, are in dire straits, but that’s certainly not the case. They’ve shown marked improvement in this their second season in the southern hemisphere showpiece and were ‘winners’ in defeat against the All Blacks in La Plata last weekend.
Santiago Phelan’s charges smashed the world champions at scrum time and their scrummaging prowess could lead to the Wallabies’ downfall.
They’ve been found wanting on attack, where a lack of tries has hurt their progress, but with a dominant scrum that can serve as an attacking weapon, they could keep the scoreboard ticking over with penalties.
Tighthead Ben Alexander said the Wallaby pack, who’ve been indifferent in the scrums this campaign, are well aware that they’ll face the full brunt of the Bajada.
“They have identified that area as a strength of theirs and that’s where they want to ram home that advantage and so it’s up to us to nullify that strength,” Alexander told the Daily Telegraph.
Alexander – who acknowledged the Pumas’ proficiency in the set-piece – felt that the visitors will be better equipped for the contest after the teams’ most recent encounter.
“They’re what we want to chase in scrummaging, they’re very consistent which is something we’ve lacked,” he said.
“We scrummed well against them in the first half in Perth but in the second half, that first 20 minutes after half-time, we took our foot off the pedal and they then started to dish us and got them right back in the game. Hopefully it’s a lesson learned for the whole forward pack this Saturday.”
The Argentineans have outclassed all three SANZAR giants in the set-piece due in large part to their technical expertise on the second shove, but Alexander felt their success came down to attitude.
“It is just a mentality. They are not bigger or stronger. They want to scrum for longer. It is all mental,” he said.
“They are all the same height, if you watch them. They’re not lower, they’re not any bigger, any heavier. They just mentally want to scrum for longer. They’re very patient, so it is about being patient, wanting to scrum for longer. It’s just a mental thing.”
Alexander added that like the match as a whole, the scrum battle will be all about pride. “They don’t care if they lose the game as long as they have won at scrum time – it is a badge of honour for them,” he said.
“It is a pride thing for us too. We are not happy with the way our scrum has been going. We took some steps in the right direction [against the Springboks] at the weekend, but for us it is about consistency and about putting the performance out instead of talking about it.”
2013: Australia won 14-13, Perth
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
Argentina: 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (captain), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Julio Farías Cabello, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Matias Diaz, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Fernández, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Bernard Foley.
Date: Saturday, October 5
Venue: Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario
Kick-off: 19.40 (22.40 GMT; 09.40 Sunday, October 6, EDT Australia)
Expected weather: Clear, 10°C and a 6km/h north-easterly wind.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)