Argentine jape a kick to Australia's mojo
Scrambler ... Gonzalo Camacho. Photo: AFP
There was a cheeky quip doing the rounds last week, the provenance of which points to one of the travelling Argentine scribes with a mischievous streak.
The punchline was that if the Wallabies didn't start winning soon the competition should revert to a Tri Nations format. The light-heartedness is obvious but the lack of reverence should not come as a surprise. Not only does the Wallabies' line-up tomorrow night lack physical menace, but Argentina have an identical record over the past two World Cups. They have taken on the southern hemisphere superpowers and have so far failed to see what all the fuss is about.
It helps when your game is built on an understanding and rigorous application of the fundamentals.
The body position of their forwards is so low and unforgiving that All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu was driven back in a tackle, burrowed under for a try and eventually replaced last week - after knocking on in the face of a blue and white wall. Kane Douglas's debut among the hard men of the Pumas' tight five will be an education.
With their kicking game, Argentina are skilful enough to make the distinction between frequency and purpose. The boot's reputation has taken a battering in the past week due to the Wallabies' love of the short varieties, but it remains one of the Test arenas best weapons.
In the 62nd minute last week, Juan Martin Hernandez, with little room to work in, pulled off a banana kick - a proper one, not the skewed impostor seen all too often - that carved off about 50 metres.
Australia's lack of a distance kicker has been dragging them down for years. The skill is clearly not unattainable but as yet is unachieved.
Still, the visitors are battling with an enemy well known to Australian players. The Argentines already have clocked more than 26,000 kilometres in travel for their first three games, against the world's two most physical sides.
It could hurt them more than most, because of the way they set up to defend. They put great faith in the scrambling qualities of their backs, particularly the outside-centre Marcelo Bosch and the right winger Gonzalo Camacho, whose ability to turn and chase has closed down many a perilous situation.
Adam Ashley-Cooper's flying double tackle was not the only outstanding cover work last week, with Bosch running down Victor Vito as a try in the corner appeared likely.
At times last week, Camacho was defending so narrowly that he was leaving almost half the field outside him from set-piece play.
The territory they concede on the outside is less pronounced during phase play but the invitation is the same - we dare you to go towards the touchline and we'll back our pace to cover you. There is potential there for the Wallabies on what should be a dry track in perfect conditions.
Indeed, the eyes of Quade Cooper and Dom Shipperley must have lit up when reviewing how the All Blacks collected their second try. From a scrum move, Aaron Cruden ran wide and, using decoy runners to hold up the defence, threw a long, difficult, left-to-right double cut-out pass to Cory Jane, who went over untouched.
Reds fans with happy memories of the 2011 title will need no reminding of Cooper's mastery of that art. In one crucial, regular-season game against the Force in Perth, he lobbed a delivery similar to Cruden's over the head of the Force's David Smith to create a matchwinning five-pointer. There might be a first Wallabies try for Shipperley if the youngster can be encouraged to hold his width, or redemption for Kurtley Beale when he comes on later on against heavy legs.
This could be a game too far for Argentina in this section of the tournament. There is a win coming for them, but it might have to wait until October, when the Wallabies arrive after what will be a rugged Test in Pretoria.