Smite me, O Mighty Smiter. It never rains but it pours. Just a couple of feelings possibly going through the mind of coach Robbie Deans.
Smite me, O Mighty Smiter. It never rains but it pours. Just a couple of feelings possibly going through the thought process of Robbie Deans.
There have been injuries, an off-field critique by one of his players and a former Australia boss fuming that a New Zealander at the helm “is ridiculous”. Despite all of this, a second-placed finish might well occur when the full-time whistle is blown. Silver would mean gold in my opinion.
To add some perspective, let us list some key players he is missing due to ailments: James O'Connor, James Horwill, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Lachlan Turner, Stephen Moore, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealiifano are just a handful currently sidelined while it is worth a mention that Kurtley Beale and Tatafu Polota-Nau are either continuing on the road back from niggles or battling with an ongoing struggle with knocks. What's remarkable is their veteran lock, Nathan Sharpe, remains injury-free – even more remarkable is that he has 32 percent of the XVs total caps this weekend!
Argentina named an unchanged XV to face them. Was coach Santiago Phelan trying to rub it in?
So to say they've been in a tight spot is an understatement. Now, how do they get out of it? A “Honey Badger” could help. On his 25th birthday, Nick Cummins finally makes the cut for an Australian XV. Those unfamiliar with the earlier reference, I guess brace yourself for this.
Cummins is deserving of a call-up after impressively powerful performances for the Force during the tail end of the Super Rugby season and is joined in the backline by Reds outside centre Ben Tapuai, who forms a new-look midfield partnership with Pat McCabe. Direct, yes, but it is a decent combination. Beale remains at 10 and another solid shift – following Kepu and Drew Mitchell's recent views – may help the ARU with the Quade Cooper predicament.
The surprise move in the pack comes on the blindside as – after giving Dave Dennis plenty of minutes – Deans has chosen to hand Sitaleki Timani the 6 jersey in a move he puts down to being similar to that of adding Cummins – Australia want to match power with power.
“As with the backs, we have looked to increase our physicality to counter the direct force that will undoubtedly be coming the other way,” stated Deans when announcing his line-up.
Does that mean the Wallabies are going to keep things tight, in a similar gameplan to that of the Springboks when they visited the tournament new-boys? If so then the Pumas will no doubt be licking their lips at that prospect as their bruising pack in front of two settled half-backs may have the edge. Make no mistake, this week's visitors to Argentina will not play with the same fluidity that the All Blacks displayed in their seven-try success in La Plata.
I must confess that when the Rugby Championship schedule was released in May, this game immediately caught the eye as it just screamed upset win. What wasn't known then was the injury hand Australia were about to be dealt and also that Rodrigo Roncero would be talked out of Test retirement. Because of those ingredients being thrown into the Rosario melting pot, it is understandable that many bookmakers have struggled to split these two.
That has been the consensus of many offering a prediction this week but not that of our readers, with the masses having Argentina sneaking it to end a 15-year drought. We should not forget just how close they came to breaking that run at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast a few rounds ago as they let 13 points slip in the last quarter. Surely this is their moment.
Ones to watch:
For Argentina: Last weekend's early linebreak from Lucas Amorosino was special and something we had been waiting for all Rugby Championship from him. Since starting their opening game of the tournament, against South Africa at Newlands, the Montpellier runner was then demoted to bench duty. However, head coach Santiago Phelan gave him another shot a fortnight ago and the full-back has not let his boss down. Against the Wallabies it's predicted he will have opportunities to roam so watch this Pumas back-three as we hope for tries in the Rosario finale. Also, how can we not keep one eye on the man bidding farewell to the Pumas. Rugby salutes one of its great servants. Hats off to prop Rodrigo Roncero.
For Australia: From one veteran international to another. 34-year-old second-row forward Nathan Sharpe leads the Wallabies into what is going to be a passionate clash in front of a partisan crowd. With close to a third of the total caps his XV possesses, much responsibility will be on the lock's shoulders to keep his colleagues cool in the hot atmosphere of Estadio Gigante de Arroyito. Sharpe has spoken well during the week about character defining this injury-hit squad but with a week of travel behind them, do the Wallabies have enough in the tank both physically and mentally? Western Force's Nick Cummins will be exciting to watch.
Head-to-head: The battle between wings Horacio Agulla and Nick Cummins should be excellent entertainment on Saturday as both love to carry in different styles. Agulla likes to find holes while Cummins is pound for pound a destructive and dynamic figure. Meanwhile Marcelo Bosch will be keen to get the upper hand on Ben Tapuai in terms of shutting down his space and limiting the returning Wallaby outside centre's confidence early in the piece.
2012: Australia won 23-19 on Gold Coast
2003: Australia won 24-8 in Sydney
2002: Australia won 17-6 in Buenos Aires
2000: Australia won 32-25 in Canberra
2000: Australia won 53-6 in Brisbane
Prediction: Travel, a draining day at Loftus and injuries. It had to be Argentina by 3!
Argentina: 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (c), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Leonardo Senatore, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez, 22 Juan Imhoff.
Australia: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Sitaleki Timani, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Dave Dennis, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Dominic Shipperley.