South Americans sniff rugby upset
The Pumas take on South Africa in Cape Town last month. Photo: Getty Images
The Wallabies have gone to great lengths to insist they are taking Argentina as seriously as humanly possible. Perhaps the more poignant question is whether the Pumas are doing the same to Australia.
There's no doubt the South Americans, on the Gold Coast to play the Wallabies at Skilled Park on Saturday night, can sniff an upset wafting down Cavill Avenue (among other things).
With Will Genia adding to a long and increasingly distinguished list of injured players and the Pumas showing a liking for a scrap against the All Blacks and Springboks, the visitors think the door is ajar.
Kane Douglas. Photo: Getty Images
Even the travelling Argentine media are openly questioning Wallaby players about who they fancy on Saturday night. Lock Kane Douglas took three or four blinks to digest the question when it was kicked his way after a training session at The Southport School.
It would have been a much better story if he had said: “Well, Argentina obviously”. Instead, with Robbie Deans in the foreground, he skilfully glanced it down to third man and sprinted off for a quick single.
“Who do I think is going to win?” Douglas repeated, before saying he hoped the Wallabies were some sort of chance, especially since he was on debut.
“We know it's going to be tough but we know we can do it. They play a different style. They're not text book. We're looking forward to the fight. Hopefully we can win,” Douglas told the Argentine journalist.
The new side in the Rugby Championship has shown no fear or favour for the southern hemisphere mafia thus far. They drew against South Africa and rattled plenty of bones before going down to the All Blacks 21-5 in Wellington.
Now they face the Wallabies, who creaked back into life with a win over the Springboks but left without their captain and halfback Genia, who not only gives them direction at the ruck but a mongrel instinct on the field and last week, in the post-game TV spot with Rod Kafer.
Nick Phipps comes into the side to join Quade Cooper in the halves, while Cooper will have sole generalship of a back line as Pat McCabe returns to the centres and co-playmaker Berrick Barnes moves to fullback.
Cooper plays his best rugby outside of old friend Genia, who will have surgery on his injured knee on Wednesday by respected Brisbane surgeon Peter Myers and is expected to be out for six months.
But he rates Rebels number nine Phipps highly and won't alter his game dramatically to compensate for the experience void Genia leaves in his wake.
“You've still got to let the nine play their role and that's to take control of the forward pack. I'm sure that's something Nick will do,” Cooper said.
“I'll just continue to do my role – help him out as much as possible at training but when he's out on the field. I've got full confidence in him or whoever is in that number nine jumper. Nick will do a great job and he's got my full backing.”
Cooper thrives when he can play what he sees and while he has combined well with Barnes at times, loves being given a licence to roam and hitting strong-running targets when the opportunity presents.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is hoping that's the case on Saturday. He concedes his side had little opportunity to throw the ball around against the Boks and hopes Cooper can further involve McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper and his wingers at Skilled Park.
“Well, I hope so, particularly in the opposition half. We were pretty shoddy last week getting out of our own end so we didn't have too many opportunities,” Deans said.
“What we did with the ball we had was good but we need more of it. Berrick attacked well, to be fair. He carried the ball well too on the few occasions he had that opportunity. Patty enjoys doing that as well, so more of the same.”
McCabe said it wouldn't take long to reacquaint himself with Cooper, who plays a more conservative game under Deans than Reds coach Ewen McKenzie but still asks his ball-runners to be ready for anything.
“We played a lot of rugby together last year. Quade's a bit of a different guy to play with. He's someone who's a great communicator so it makes my job easier,” McCabe said.
Argentina has made two changes to their back line for the match.
Pumas coach Santiago Phelan has dropped halfback Nicolas Vergallo and fullback Martin Rodriguez from the team which lost 21-5 to New Zealand and replaced them with Martin Landajo and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
– additional reporting by AAP