Rugby Championship: Australia search for finishing touches against the Pumas
The Wallabies are out to right some wrongs in the tournament finale at Twickenham
Super Rugby came to Twickenham in 2011 and this weekend the Rugby Championship follows suit, with Argentina moving their home game with Australia 6,000 miles north in a bid to capitalise on the sport-hungry UK market.
Ticket price reductions suggest the match is proving a harder sell than first envisaged, but anything over 19,000 would represent an improvement on the attendances for both Argentina’s away fixture with Australia in Perth, and their home match with South Africa in Salta.
Tom Robertson, the wide-eyed young Wallaby prop making his first trip to Europe, referred this week to how impressed Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper had been by the Twickenham atmosphere, but the veteran wing duo were presumably reliving last year’s red-hot World Cup, when Australia played five huge matches at HQ five weeks on the trot.
There will be less at stake on Saturday night but it’s a match of huge importance nevertheless, and not just because the runners-up spot – behind champions New Zealand – is still up for grabs. The Pumas need victory to achieve their stated goal of two wins in this championship, while the Wallabies are trying to arrest the growing grumbles brought about by a run of seven defeats in nine Tests, stretching back to the World Cup final.
Ill discipline and an untidy breakdown have been weaknesses for Australia this year, but of greater concern is a malfunctioning lineout – even with the instalment of specialist jumper Dean Mumm at No 6.
Adam Coleman (6ft 8in) and Rory Arnold (6ft 10in), Australia’s biggest-ever lock pairing, will become the country’s seventh different combination in the engine room this year, with the 65-cap Rob Simmons once again omitted from a match-day squad.
James Slipper, pretty much a permanent fixture since 2012, struggled in the scrum in Pretoria and has also been axed as Michael Cheika elects to go for youthful props on the bench in Robertson and Allan Alaalatoa.
Lopeti Timani replaces the injured Sean McMahon at No 8, with Bath’s Leroy Houston, desperate to end a long wait for a Wallaby cap, named on a nine-man bench – one player will have to go by kick-off.
Should the set-piece go well, the next task will be to eradicate the sloppiness that saw the Wallabies squander a number of scoring chances last week in Pretoria.
“We’re just really disappointed (with that 18-10 loss),” said Will Genia this week. “South Africa deserved to win, Morne (Steyn) kicked all those goals and drop-goals, but from our point of view we’re just disappointed that we created all those opportunities and weren’t able to finish.
“Whether it be passes behind blokes, dropping the ball… There was plenty of space there through the shape we were able to create. It’s just disappointing that we let a huge opportunity like that slip.”
Mumm, who won his 50th cap in the 36-20 defeat of the Pumas in Perth, believes there are no reasons to panic. “The difference between the two matches (Perth and Pretoria) is taking the opportunity when it presents itself. In Perth we probably only had three or four opportunities and we stuck three of them.
“Against South Africa we had plenty of opportunities, we just didn’t make the most of it, and that composure, particularly in that attacking zone, the opposition 22, is a really key facet and something we’ll be looking to improve this weekend. The exciting thing is that you create those opportunities; you’d be more pessimistic if you weren’t creating them in the first place.”
The sort of inaccuracy that saw Quade Cooper twice give forward passes to a crash-ball runner can surely only be temporary with Australia, who for so long were renowned for their back-line execution.
Their opponents, forging a reputation of their own for expansive rugby, are also failing to rack up the points they deserve and should the passes stick on Saturday we could be in for a cracker.
The Pumas have beaten Australia only twice in the pro era – on home soil in 1997 and 2014 – but there appears little to separate the teams. Not the least of Argentina’s qualities is their refusal to cave in after a horrendous start, as occurred in last year’s World Cup semi-final and again in Perth, when they conceded three converted tries in the first 12 minutes.
The loss of injured No 8 Facundo Isa, the championship’s leading ball-carrier by far and averaging 72 metres a game, will force Argentina to play differently – making them more of an unknown.
Mumm, though, has total belief that Australia will get back on track ahead of their demanding European tour later this autumn.
“You don’t take any moment in this jersey for granted and every opportunity you have to wear it then you do something in it.
“The more detail, the better preparation, you have during the week, that’s what being a Wallaby is about. If you do that you will win more games than you lose.
“For the new guys (in the squad) the ledger is swayed to losses at the moment but I’ve got complete faith that if we continue to prepare well – and certainly we’ve improved our preparation as the year has gone on – then we’ll win more games than we lose.”
Argentina: J Tuculet; M Moroni, M Orlando, S Gonzalez Iglesias; M Montero; N Sanchez, M Landajo; L Noguera, A Creevy (capt), R Herrera, G Petti, M Alemanno, P Metera, J Ortega Desio, L Senatore.
Replacements: J Montoya, S Garcia Botta, E Pieretto, M Kremer, T Cubelli, JM Leguizamon, J de la Fuente, R Moyano.
Australia: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, B Foley, R Hodge; Q Cooper, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore (capt), S Kepu, R Arnold, A Coleman, D Mumm, M Hooper, L Timani.
Replacements (one to be omitted): J Hanson, T Robertson, A Alaalatoa, K Douglas, Scott Fardy, L Houston, N Phipps, T Kuridrani, S Naivalu.
Argentina v Australia at Twickenham on Saturday 8 October, kick-off 7.30pm. For tickets, click here.