ROSARIO: Wallabies forwards coach Andrew Blades believes his team can take a lot from their only loss to Argentina in the past 25 years to ensure they finish their Rugby Championship on a high this weekend.
Blades was in the front row of the 1997 Wallabies team that was involved in the last major Australian tour of Argentina, which ended in disaster when they lost the second Test in Buenos Aires 18-16.
That defeat is the Wallabies' only lapse in a 10-Test stretch with the Pumas, with the previous loss being in 1987 - again in Argentina.
After winning the first Test in 1997, 23-15, the Wallabies discovered a week later in Buenos Aires what happens if they underestimate the Pumas on their home turf, where the local crowd is brought into play.
Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen was astounded by the players' lack of intensity that day. As centre Tim Horan recalled: ''We sat on the seat on the bus after the game seeing the smoke come out of Macqueen's ears. He was fuming not at a loss but how the Wallabies reacted. Some of the side watched the Argentinians do a lap of honour and some were in the dressing room. We weren't a unit.''
Blades has similar grim memories of that day. ''We let them into the game by being frivolous,'' he said yesterday. ''We tried to play them without giving them the respect of doing the hard work. We were chucking the ball around, playing behind the advantage line, and trying to do fancy things that weren't on.
''By being frivolous, the Pumas gained momentum, and then they really fed off the crowd's energy.''
So this week, Blades has been stressing to the team the importance of being serious in every part of the game, and ensure that their attention to detail is perfect - especially at the breakdown.
''What we have been stressing this week is the pride Argentina have about playing at home. They don't get to have home Tests that often, and so these internationals take on extra importance, which is shown by how passionate the crowd becomes. They get really involved in the game, and that can affect a visiting team,'' Blades said.
To nullify the crowd factor, Blades said it was crucial to start well, and the forwards had to be prepared to do grinding work at the breakdown to ensure the Pumas did not slow down their ball, giving Wallabies five-eighth Kurtley Beale ample chances to get the attack working.
''We've got to get that hard edge where we say that we have to do the crap work well so that the fancy work becomes easier. It can't be a case of thinking: 'We're not going anywhere here, so let's get Kurtley to do something miraculous.'
''If we can get good go-forward ball with accurate breakdown work to give us momentum then it allows Kurtley to do what he wants to do. So what we need to do this week is really improve in the simple areas so we don't give them cheap ways of getting back into the game.''
Blades said the team's accuracy at the breakdown had to improve dramatically, especially as the Pumas were masters of smothering the tackle area.
''Against the Springboks, their second man was getting to the tackle quicker than ours, and was driving us backwards. Then we started to get disorganised in attack because we were behind the advantage line. So it was hard for Kurtley to get on the front foot and play.''
And the Pumas will be as difficult as the Springboks to counter. ''They dive onto that ball, lock onto it and are really hard to shift. Over the tournament they have probably been the best in doing that. To stop it, we've got to be very aggressive and not allow that guy to lock on.''