Friday, October 5, 2012

Argentina v Australia Preview

Photo: Rodrigo Vergara
Before the tournament began the final match of The Rugby Championship was long talked about as being Argentina´s most winnable match. Australia went into the tournament as the only side that Argentina had previously defeated and also as arguably a weaker side than both New Zealand and South Africa. Australia had a mixed warm-up series with a shock loss against Scotland and three narrow wins that could have all been loses against Wales. The loss against Scotland was influenced by Robbie Deans fielding a number of fringe players and by a cold storm which which made Newcastle more like a Scottish city than an Australian one. 

Many were predicting that Argentina would struggle in its first year in The Rugby Championship. The first match was not a good one for Argentina and nor was the fifth. But between them were three good performances with Argentina drawing against South Africa before pushing New Zealand and being unlucky to lose against Australia on the Gold Coast. These three matches saw Los Pumas accepted by rugby journalists as having proven themselves as a quality team meriting a place in the tournament. But this is not what the players are seeking. They are after more than just respect - they want to be as good as the three existing teams. Argentina simply wants to win games. 

The scoreline from the La Plata match was not pretty from a Pumas perspective. Argentina played some fine rugby but also missed a lot of tackles and was outplayed at the breakdown. The All Blacks made few errors and won by 39 points. It was a game to suggest that Argentina have a lot to do before a win will be a reality. But, Australia were hardly impressive against South Africa earlier on that day. The Wallabies were also well beaten and appeared vulnerable due to the teams resources being pushed to the absolute limit. Injuries have been the theme of Australia´s campaign. Robbie Deans has coem under fire but he cannot be blamed for injuries. What was already a depleted squad got worse in Pretoria as Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes were both injured and did not fly to Argentina. But the Wallabies are not making any excuses. The Australian side has not onyl changed due to injuries but also due to form. Mike Harris has been named at fullback in palce of Berrick Barnes but Nick Cummins will start ahead of Dom Shipperley who has been dropped to the bench. Ben Tapuai will start in place of Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre and there are two changes in the forwards. James Slipper will start at loosehead prop and Sitaleki Timani will play on the side of the scrum. 

Argentina has some injury concerns, but nothing in comparison to that of the Wallabies. Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga has undergone shoulder surgery while Marcos Ayerza has been unable to recover in time from the Oceania tour. The squad is otherwise at full strength and Santiago Phelan has named the same starting XV from La Plata. No changes have been made despite Juan Imhoff having been training in the starting lineup at practice earlier in the week. Phelan has, however, opted for changes to the bench. For the first time in tournament Argentina will have a replacement flyhalf with Nicolás Sánchez taking the place of Rodríguez Gurruchaga. The other change sees Leonardo Senatore named on the bench in place of Tomás Vallejos Cinalli. 

Key Match-Up
Two highly talented players will pull the strings at flyhalf with Juan Martín Hernández likely to have another busy evening with his tackling. Both have solid running games but it is the technicial kicking of Hernández that makes their clash interesting, especially due to the selection of Harris at fullback. Rodrigo Roncero v Ben Alexander will be under the spotlight due to the Puma making his final appearance. Another notable clash is Patricio Albacete v Nathan Shape with both players having been impressive all tournament long. Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Michael Hooper have also played well. Australia´s strongest weapon on the Gold Coast was the metres gained by ball carriers, with Radiki Samo having a significant impact on the game. He will need to be contained in Rosario. The clash of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe v Radiki Samo is the central one to look out for. Curiously, Samo is a former teammate of Roncero and Hernández. They were French Champions together in 2007 as Stade Français defeated Clermont. As pictured at the top of the page the mutual respect and friendship between the veterans Roncero and Samo has endured. 
Prediction
The depleted nature of the Wallabies team and playing not only in Argentina but outside of Buenos Aires makes it a very difficult assignment for Australia. For the first time in the tournament Argentina is not the underdog. This time Argentina is going into the match as favorites and is expected to win. The South Americans attacking game used on the Gold Coast and in La Plata is something which could be scary for onlooking European teams as it is just a question fo time before the errors are corrected and Argentina will then be a very daunting team to face for anybody. Martín Landajo´s try in La Plata is a strong candidate for try of the tournament. In all liklihood Argentina will try to play exactly the same and the chances of success are greater as the team has been able to practice together and is up against a vastly changed Wallaby defensive backline. Mistakes will be costly, as they were in La Plata but Australia does not appear to have the same counter attacking power as New Zealand. Prediction: Argentina to win by 6 points. 

Argentina
15 Lucas González Amorosino (Montpellier, France)
14 Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter Chiefs, England)
13 Marcelo Bosch (Biarritz, England)
12 Santiago Fernández (Montpellier, France)
11 Horacio Agulla (Bath, England)
10 Juan Martín Hernández (Racing Métro, France)
9 Martín Landajo (Los Pampas XV)
8 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (Toulon, France)
7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón (Lyon OU, France)
6 Julio Farías Cabello (Los Pampas XV)
5 Patricio Albacete (Toulouse, France)
4 Manuel Carizza (unattached)
3 Juan Figallo (Montpellier, France)
2 Eusebio Guinãzú (unattached)
1 Rodrigo Roncero (unattached)

Reserves
16 Agustín Creevy (Montpellier, France)
17 Juan Pablo Orlandi (Racing Métro, France)
18 Leonardo Senatore (Los Pampas XV)
19 Tomás Leonardí (Los Pampas XV)
20 Nicolás Vergallo (Southern Kings, South Africa)
21 Nicolás Sánchez (Bordeaux-Begles, France)
22 Juan José Imhoff (Racing Métro, France)

Australia
15 Mike Harris (Queensland Reds)
14 Nick Cummins (Western Force)
13 Ben Tapuai (Queensland Reds)
12 Pat McCabe (ACT Brumbies)
11 Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10 Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
9 Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
Michael Hooper (ACT Brumbies) 
Sitaleki Timani (NSW Warratahs)
5 Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)
Kane Douglas (NSW Warratahs)
Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies)
Tatafu Polota-Nau (NSW Warratahs)
1 James Slipper (Queensland Reds)

Reserves
16 Saia Fainga'a (Queensland Reds)
17 Benn Robinson (NSW Warratahs)
18 Dave Dennis (NSW Warratahs)
19 Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
20 Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21 Brett Sheehan (Western Force)
22 Dom Shipperley (Queensland Reds) 

The game will be the last ever for Rodrigo Roncero. 

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