Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Argentina v Australia as Los Pumas dominate the aerial game

James While

Following a 48-17 victory for Argentina over Australia in their Rugby Championship clash, here’s our five takeaways from the match in San Juan.

Top line

Argentina put in one of their finest performances in the Rugby Championship to thrash a disjointed Wallabies side in a packed and noisy San Juan.

Unlucky last week, Los Pumas’ heart, energy and sheer tactical awareness were all light years ahead of an injury-ravaged Australian side and their victory sees them in the heady position of leaders of the tournament after two rounds.

Michael Cheika said he learned a lot about his charges last week and took to the airways to deliver a chase game that saw Argentina hit 27 contestable kicks and dominate the subsequent scramble for possession.

Juan Imhoff scored Los Pumas’ opener in his recall to the side, but it was young loosehead Thomas Gallo that took the player of the match award – the baby-faced assassin crossing for a brace of well-engineered tries.

Heroes

Argentina have been improving slowly but surely and are developing a host of world-class players in every department of the team. Their back-row features three international class players; at hooker they sport two of the absolute best of all time and at half-back, Gonzalo Bertranou’s emergence is putting pressure on the usually outstanding Tomas Cubelli.

In all three areas of the set-piece, they dominated Australia, with powerful scrummaging, slick lineout play and aerial domination the order of the day.

Above all, the key to their success was owning the drop zone – in other words controlling the five-metre box around where the kicks are landing. The number of times Los Pumas beat Australia to the contestable kicks were legion and at least four of their tries came from pressure and opportunism, rather than structure or phase play. It was almost a case of Argentina being the side who wanted it more and, as a result, winning every marginal play.

Australian confusion

The Wallabies are effectively attempting to play Test rugby without a fly-half.

On only four occasions in the match did James O’Connor receive the ball as a traditional 10. The rest of the match saw the outstanding Rob Valetini or Len Ikitau running direct lines in the fly-half channel or passing on the loop with O’Connor trying to get around as a second receiver.

The pressure this places in terms of clearance work and kick load onto the scrum-half is quite astonishing. Nic White (and later, Tate McDermott) are working almost like rugby league nines, making all the calls and all the plays. It’s a crazy situation when the scrum-half has so much pressure in his face to ask him then to run the game and, put simply, it’s not working for Australia.

There is no doubt the Wallabies have the quality of player elsewhere in the backline, it’s simply that they are struggling hugely at fly-half and until they can start to control the match from that shirt they simply cannot play any form of structured or pre-planned rugby.

Shining stars

We have already mentioned Gallo and his wonderful brace of tries, but elsewhere, players such as Julian Montoya, Marcos Kremer and Tomas Lavanini had great impact for Los Pumas in the forwards, whilst the entire three quarter line had matches to remember.

At 12, Jeronimo de la Fuente provided us with one of the most original dummies and scores we’ve seen in a long time. As he set off on his mazy run on 23 minutes, it appeared for all money that he’d pulled up with a hamstring tear. As he clutched his thigh in pain, the open line was just too much for the injured Puma to resist, and as the Aussie defence stopped and watched, he went again to limp over for a slightly comedic if brilliant try.

Planet Rugby have long been a big fan of Emiliano Boffelli and yet again the graceful kicker came good with 13 effortless points off the tee and added a brilliant chase try at the end to seal off a memorable personal performance. As we approach World Cup year, his value to Argentina cannot be understated and they can take great comfort that every time he plays, they go into a Test with the best goal kicker in the world.

Wallaby work-ons

Australia look to be in a bad place, but their injury list is as long as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can forgive them not playing to structure with so many changes and you can also understand the issues they face at fly-half, but what is unforgivable for them is to be so soundly beaten on heart and desire.

At times it looked like Argentina versus Valetini, James Slipper and Marika Koroibete, such was the inconsistent efforts of the other players. The first thing Dave Rennie needs to work on is upping the desire and intensity, two qualities that should be a given for Test rugby players.

Notwithstanding the lack of a proper 10, the skill and execution levels, particularly when fielding the Pumas aerial bombardment, were nowhere near Test standard and as mentioned previously, the ease with which the Argentinian players picked off the chase was remarkable.

Australia have a decent set-piece, they have high skill levels in their handling, running and passing, but the fixes they need are so simple that it seems quite remarkable a Test side with their ability hasn’t yet sorted them out.

Tonight, Los Pumas can celebrate one of their greatest performances, but the Wallabies need to be honest and accept that this was one of their poorest displays in a long time.

READ MORE: Rugby Championship: Record-breaking Argentina thrash Australia in San Juan