Pumas favoured to top Aussies
Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (AFP)
Buenos Aires - It's been 15 years since Argentina beat Australia - that was 1997 in Buenos Aires. After a long wait, the Pumas are the favorites on Saturday to do it again in the eastern city of Rosario in the last match of the Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies have limped into town without 15 injured players, most of them regular starters, and the confidence of the rest of them in tatters after last weekend's 31-8 mauling in South Africa.
The Pumas on the other hand, were able to name an unchanged starting line-up for Saturday's clash. They are winless after five matches, but are always difficult to beat at home where they take pride in playing well in front of feverish support. Following a draw with the Springboks in August, a victory against the Wallabies would make the Pumas' tournament debut a success - better than expected against rugby's top three ranked teams.
Unlike the Wallabies, Agentina are healthy and may start the same 15 that lost to the All Blacks 54-15 last weekend in La Plata. That result seems to have been quickly forgotten, taken as a hard lesson administered by the world champions.
"We are confident and more than ready to forget what happened and only think about Australia," fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino said. "Playing at home is wonderful. It's great to have the support and to be at home and train with your family close by. I hope there's a big party atmosphere at the stadium this time that will help motivate us."
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has preached about correcting small mistakes that have cost the Pumas matches - particularly late in the draw conceded to South Africa in Mendoza, and in the first-leg match at Australia, where the Pumas led by 13 with a quarter to go.
The message is getting through, plus a sense that the battered Wallabies are vulnerable.
"I think it's going to be high-energy match, and we have to reduce our errors," the speedy Gonzalez Amorosino said. "We want to have the ball like we did in attack against New Zealand, but without the mistakes. We're up to play a great match."
A 40 000-sellout is expected in the home city of Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi.
Under-fire Australia coach Robbie Deans made five changes to his team, switching Sitaleki Timani from lock to flanker and giving Mike Harris a start - he's their fifth fullback this season.
Also, Nick Cummins was selected on the wing and will become the 11th new cap for Australia in a season in which 38 players have been used.
"We know that the Pumas will be coming straight at us, and will be looking to profit in the collision in the same way that the Springboks did last week," Deans said. "We've addressed that, both internally in our discussions, but also with our selection, where we have gone for the players we feel are best suited to that approach."
Australia have won 13 of their previous 18 Tests against Argentina, including a come-from-behind win on the Gold Coast last month, and one match has been drawn. But recent results are putting the odds on the Pumas of making history.
"By the way we played on the weekend, I think the Argentines would be deserved favourites for this game," Australia centre Pat McCabe acknowledged.
Assistant coach Andrew Blades focused on the need for Australia to be more physical.
"I think for us the contact part will be the important part," he said. "To play against the Pumas well, you first must do the hard work. That is where we suffered on the weekend in terms of around the tackle. The Pumas are very strong in the tackle so we need to improve there."
Winger Digby Ioane described the Wallabies as a "bit bruised" from the South Africa loss, but shrugged it off.
"That's rugby," he said. "Argentina are really dangerous in broken plays, and they are very physical as well. Their back three - the wingers and the fullback - are very dangerous in attack. We can't afford to turn over balls. That's where they'll punish us."
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 (captain), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero
Substitutes: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Leonardo Senatore, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Nicolas Sanchez, 22 Juan Imhoff
15 Mike Harris, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Sitaleki Timani, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper
Substitutes: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Dave Dennis, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Dominic Shipperley