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Preview: Australia v Argentina

14th September 2012 08:22

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Nathan Sharpe in 2003

Australia's sole survivor: Sharpe

Why weren't they involved sooner? That is the general consensus about Argentina right now after a smooth arrival to the Rugby Championship.

An opening night defeat was backed up by a draw against the Boks in Mendoza before New Zealand were next to feel the full force of Puma beef.

Furthermore, the pre-tournament ringed home fixtures are still to cap what has already been a memorable and justified debut at the top table.

Next up is Australia who, despite being heavy favourites with the bookmakers, are set to face a gruelling evening at Skilled Park this Saturday.

If Australia do claim the win, they will have come through a right of passage against a pack Tatafu Polota-Nau praised as being 'jacklers'. Polota-Nau continued by rating the Argentinean forwards as being right up there, if not the strongest, group of eight in the 2012 Rugby Championship. It's a fair point as, if asked to name the competition's form XV, then Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Rodrigo Roncero would go straight onto the list.

As has been the case over the years when planning out our then Tri-Nations previews, the 'Recent Results' section would be packed to the rafters. Not so this year as these two have met just four times in the last twelve years. Just three players remain from the last clash as Patricio Albacete, Nathan Sharpe and Juan Martin Hernandez go at it again. Those asking where old stager Roncero was, he did feature in RWC 2003 but didn't make that squad.

Roncero will, of course, be in attendance this weekend and is most definitely going out from Test rugby with a bang - credit to consultant Graham Henry for reportedly coaxing him back from his retirement call. With Marcos Ayerza patiently waiting his turn, the future is bright.

But what can we expect on Saturday? Blank out their most recent results for a second and going solely on form I'd have no qualms backing Argentina winning on Australian soil. Reasons for a so-called upset (they are 5/1) are that the Wallabies are expected to come off second best in the forward scrap - Lobbe and Roncero will hope to accelerate that process - while the last time Nick Phipps started a Test it was in a bruising defeat to Samoa. Much like Samoa on that day, Argentina arrive confident and face a line-up that is far from at its strongest. One wonders how much Australia they miss Sitaleki Timani and Will Genia.

Their scrum did hold up well last week and that is welcome encouragement for the Wallaby front-row and their coaches. But the Pumas arguably bring a more complete arsenal than the Boks of 2012, and with the Wallabies far from top form and the Argentines oozing confidence right now, we could see a 'shock'. How long before that word ceases to exist?

Ones to watch:

For Australia: If they haven't already, Argentina would be advised to watch a re-run of Samoa's victory over the Wallabies last July. That win uncovered a few home truths about some of the Wallabies, with a couple of players having rarely featured again since. Will Genia's replacement, Nick Phipps, was on the receiving end of a big tackle and he will no doubt be targeted by the Pumas. Watchers of New Zealand's 'The Crowd Goes Wild' might remember they did a 'Smashed 'em Bro' solely based on that game. Here it is. Argentina will look to show the spirit of the islanders this weekend and get amongst these Wallabies. If Phipps is going backwards, he might be in for one heck of an uncomfortable game.

For Argentina: Coach Santiago Phelan seems to have no qualms with changing personell even when the team is performing well. Martin Rodriguez has subsequently been benched for someone who copped the same treatment after the Newlands defeat, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino. The full-back returns this week and will be hungry to prove that he's the number one number 15 in South America. Amorosino is a smooth runner when given a chance but he definitely is a confidence player. If the Pumas get him firing - alongside wing duo Gonzalo Camacho and Horacio Agulla - Australia will have their hands full for 80 minutes.

Head-to-head: Two very different specimens clash on the openside at Skilled Park as the compact yet powerful Michael Hooper faces off with Juan Manuel Leguizamon. Hooper has filled the void left by David Pocock to good effect while Leguizamon is given another opportunity after an average half a game return to action in Wellington last week. Both with their own specific tools are going to be key to how this one pans out but there is just a sense that having Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Julio Faras Cabello alongside him might see the ex-London Irish and now Lyon flanker come out on top. Another battle worth watching will be Adam Ashley-Cooper against Marcelo Bosch. Two complete footballers.

Recent results:

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: Argentina couldn't ask for a better opportunity to win on Australian soil. While the hosts enter after beating SA, there is a sense they might come unstuck. The Pumas have the pack to better their rivals up front and if 'El Mago' pulls the strings, Argentina by 2!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore/Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Anthony Fainga'a, 22 Kurtley Beale.

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 (capt), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Faras 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 Martin Rodriguez, 22 Juan Imhoff.

Date: Saturday, 15 September
Venue: Skilled Park, Gold Coast
Kick-off: 20:00 (11:00 BST, 10:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)

By Adam Kyriacou
@PlanetRugbyAK

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PosTeamPPts
1New Zealand628
2South Africa619
3Australia69
4Argentina62