Wallabies under pressure to stop the rot
September 12, 2013
Australia's Michael Hooper looks to force an opening during his side's clash with the Pumas on the Gold Coast last year © Getty Images
Australia v Argentina
Australia will be desperate to return to winning ways when they tackle Argentina in their latest Rugby Championship clash at Patersons Stadium in Perth on Saturday night.
The Wallabies are riding a three-game losing streak having tasted defeat at the hands of New Zealand in Sydney and then Wellington before suffering a rare reverse in Brisbane against South Africa last weekend.
Those results and the manner of their defeats are clear cause for concern and leave Ewen McKenzie still searching for his first success as coach since taking over from Robbie Deans in the wake of the series loss to the British & Irish Lions. But he will be hopeful of breaking his duck with the Wallabies not having lost to the Pumas since 1997 and not on home soil since 1983.
Argentina enter this latest Puma Trophy ahead of their Australian rivals in the Championship table thanks to the losing bonus point they earned against South Africa in Mendoza last month. That result was a significant improvement on their capitulation against the Boks in the opening round and while they produced another strong showing in their latest outing against the All Blacks, it still ended in defeat.
While both of these sides are still technically in the running for the southern hemisphere crown, this campaign is now more realistically about saving face. Can Australia arrest their worrying slump and convince their doubters they remain a force in the game? Or will Argentina raise their game and exploit the Wallabies' woes and claim a first Championship victory?
Australia - Player to Watch: Nic White has been handed the unenviable task of filling Will Genia's boots and all eyes will be on him to see if he can fill the void. Can he conjure the kind of form that helped propel the Brumbies to the Super Rugby final?
Australia - Team News: With lock James Horwill injured and scrum-half Will Genia out-of-sorts, No.8 Ben Mowen is handed the captaincy less than three months after debuting against the Lions in June and in just his seventh Test with Nic White preferred at No.9. Elsewhere prop Ben Alexander replaces Sekope Kepu in the front row while Waratahs lock Sitaleki Timani is named on a bench which also includes Brumbies outside back Tevita Kuridrani.
Argentina - Player to Watch: No.8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon will win his 50th cap in Perth and will be hoping to build on his try-scoring feats last weekend while keeping his rival and Wallabies captain Ben Mowen quiet.
Argentina - Team News: Veteran back Felipe Contepomi will start at inside centre in one of five changes to the side that lost to the All Blacks last weekend. Tomas Cubelli will wear the No.9 jersey for his first start in this year's Rugby Championship, with Martin Landajo dropping to the bench, while there is a double change in the midfield, with Contepomi to play his 85th Test match at No.12, while London Welsh-based Gonzalo Tiesi will feature at outside centre. The final change in the backline sees Juan Imhoff restored to the starting line up in the place of the injured Gonzalo Camacho, who returned to England after suffering a dislocated shoulder. After an impressive outing against the All Blacks up front, the forward pack features just one change with Agustín Creevy named at hooker, meaning Eusebio Guinazu drops to the reserves.
Key Battle: The back-row battle looms large as a decisive contest - can Australia No.8 Ben Mowen handle the pressure of the captaincy and dominate his rival Juan Manuel Leguizamon? Or will Pumas blindside Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe be at his influential best and deny highly-rated Wallabies openside Michael Hooper a foothold in the game?
Trivia: Ben Mowen becomes the Wallabies' sixth captain in the last two years - following in the footsteps of James Horwill, Will Genia, David Pocock, Nathan Sharpe and Rocky Elsom.
Stats: Argentina have only managed to win four matches against southern hemisphere opposition out of a total of 53 games. The four wins all came against Australia in 1979 (17-12), 1983 (18-3), 1987 (27-19) and 1997 (18-16).
Betting: Bet365 still have faith in the Wallabies and make them strong favourites but you may not be so convinced and tempted by the 10/3 on offer for a Pumas victory? Or do you fancy Australia to rediscover their spark and Israel Folau to lead a scoring frenzy? The Wallabies wizard is 8/1 to cross for the first try.
"Either we're playing a game that is too complicated or the skill level doesn't match it. So we'll go back and have a look. We'll dumb it down a bit and make it a bit simpler."
"When he arrived last year, he said, 'if you attack the way you defend, you could be world champions'''
Prediction: The Pumas will take heart from their performance against the All Blacks and heap woe on a listless Wallabies with an historic first victory in the Rugby Championship.
Follow live text commentary of Australia and Argentina on Saturday, September 14, from 730pm (AEST), 1130am (SAST), 930am (GMT)
Argentina's Agustin Creevy takes some stopping in their clash with the Wallabies on the Gold Coast last year © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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