Argentina could condemn the Wallabies to a last-place finish in the Rugby Championship should they secure a win in Salta this weekend, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The last time these sides met, Argentina claimed their first victory in Australia for 35 years. It’s a result that will have injected real self-belief into the Pumas team as they look to achieve the double over the embattled Wallabies.
As it stands, the third-placed Pumas are three log points ahead of the Wallabies, and there is a very real possibility that Australia could finish with the wooden spoon for the first time since the tournament was expanded to include Argentina.
Less than a year away from the World Cup, the pressure has been steadily building on the Wallabies and coach Michael Cheika, who desperately attempted to put on a brave face while watching his side succumb to a meek defeat against the Boks last Saturday.
It’s a result that also seems to have brought an end to the experiment of playing Kurtley Beale at flyhalf, with the 29-year-old is returning to inside centre for the upcoming clash, while Bernard Foley reclaims the No 10 jersey.
This encounter in Salta should provide a good indicator of just how much fight is left in a Wallabies side that has looked to be reeling on the ropes for most of the Rugby Championship. Will they throw in the towel or mount a fightback?
The answer to that question could well determine Cheika’s fate, but the one certainty is that Argentina will be desperate to land a knockout blow.
The Pumas would be delighted to finish the Rugby Championship with three wins to their name, but in order to do so, you sense that they must sort out the scrum woes that have regularly haunted them this season.
For both teams, this is a case of playing for pride, while desperately looking to avoid finishing at the bottom of the standings.
Stats and facts
o Argentina have never won back-to-back games against Australia, but they now have a chance to do so after they beat the Wallabies 23-19 last month.
o Australia have won five of their last six games against the Pumas in Argentina, averaging 33 points per game in those five wins.
o A loss or draw this weekend would see Australia finish the Rugby Championship at the bottom of the table. Since the Rugby Championship began in 2012 in its current format, Australia have never finished last.
o Australia have lost their last four away games, scoring more than 12 points just once in that run. They will be out to avoid losing a fifth-straight game away from home for the first time since 2005.
o Argentina (83) have conceded the most second-half points this season. However, Australia have scored just 23 points in this period, the fewest of any team.
o Australia have not lost a scrum in either of their last two games, while Argentina (76%) have the worst scrum success rate this tournament.
Argentina – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Wallabies – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Rory Arnold, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Matt Toomua, 24 Tom Banks.
Photo: Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images