Argentina vs Australia | Sunday 26 July | Estadio Malvinas Argentinas | 00:40
The second week of the Rugby Championship concludes with an encounter between Los Pumas and the Wallabies. Both teams go into this weekend’s fixture coming from positive second half displays, but will want to replicate those performances for the full eighty minutes this time around. There’s also a bit of added spice to this match with the Argentines claiming their first ever victory in the Rugby Championship against the Wallabies at this same venue in last year’s tournament. With the Australians fresh off the back of a moral boosting come from behind win over the Springboks and their opponents still fresh with the memory of last year’s historical victory, we should be in for a humdinger at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.
To Win (80mins)
Argentina (+5.5) 9/10
Australia (-5.5) 9/10
Despite going down by 21 points to the All Blacks, the Argentines would have left Christchurch a moderately happy bunch. Coach Daniel Hourcade would have been satisfied with the performance, particularly his forward pack’s second stanza efforts. Galvanised by fired up hooker and current skipper Agustin Creevy, Los Pumas managed to cross the All Black whitewash twice in the second half through their rolling maul. The Pumas are likely to take the “If it’s not broke, why fix it,” attitude into this one; so we can expect to see more eight to ten man mauls whenever the Argentines have a lineout inside Aussie territory. They’ll also look to use their scrum as a penalty accruing mechanism and with an expected 40 000 locals in the stand chewing the referee’s ear off, they’re likely to get the majority of set piece infringements blown their way. There isn’t much team news coming out of the Argentine camp, but I suspect there will be a few slight changes to the starting fifteen. One man who could come into the side is veteran back Juan Martin Hernández, who may partner Marcelo Bosch in the centres. Other than that there may be a few tweaks to the forward pack, with a few of their tight five likely to be fatigued after a confrontational and sapping second stanza at Christchurch.
Michael Cheika would have been a relieved man when Nigel Owens blew his whistle for final time on Saturday. His charges were staring down the barrel of defeat with twenty minutes to go and 20-10 down. They needed a minor miracle to clench victory from the jaws of defeat…however the Australians weren’t on the receiving end of divine intervention, no, instead they were handed victory through an awful kicking display from the Springbok backline. While Cheika will be pleased his team hung in there and managed to sneak a win, he’ll know that they need to up their game in the coming matches if they are to clinch this year’s Rugby Championship. Cheika has a few injuries to contend with, most prominently in the backline. Returning veteran Matt Giteau will be getting reacquainted with the Australian medical team for the remainder of the week after he suffered an injury to his sternum in last weekend’s bruising encounter against the Springboks. Giteau is joined by Will Genia and Rob Horne in the treatment room, the former struggling with knee cartilage damage while the latter has a hamstring strain. The injured trio has been replaced in the starting fifteen by Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua and Joe Tomane. The only unforced change to the Wallabies backline sees Bernard Foley come in for Quade Cooper. Although the forward pack has not endured the same wholesale changes that the backline has, Cheika has still done some tinkering. His changes see David Pocock come in for Michael Hooper on the flank, whilst Ben McCalman takes over from Scott Higginbotham at the tail of the scrum.
VERDICT: Argentina (+5.5) 9/10
The Australians will be out to exorcise the demon that have been hanging over their heads since they left Estadio Malvinas Argentinas twelve months ago. However, the Pumas may prove an even more stubborn force to vanquish than those faced by Bill Murray in the Ghostbusters franchise. Although I wouldn’t go as far as backing them for a win, I can definitely see Hourcade’s side being within the handicap margin come the close of proceedings.