Larkham mounts banter offensive on Ledesma but knows Pumas' threats
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Larkham mounts banter offensive on Ledesma but knows Pumas' threats

Wallabies assistant Stephen Larkham began his press conference on Tuesday afternoon in eye-raising fashion when he was asked about his former colleague and new Argentinian national coach, Mario Ledesma.

“I knew this question was coming,” Larkham said, doing his best not to break out into laughter. “I’ve got too much disrespect for Mario to play mind games with him. He was here for a couple of years as an assistant coach and, honestly, I don’t know how he’s a head coach. He’s struggled as an assistant coach. I don’t know what he’s going to come up with this weekend. I expect a fair bit of scrummaging because that’s what he’s good at.”

Inside knowledge: Stephen Larkham and Matt Toomua work on their game plan for the Pumas.

Inside knowledge: Stephen Larkham and Matt Toomua work on their game plan for the Pumas.Credit:AAP

Talk about light-hearted banter. The respect Ledesma holds in the Wallabies inner sanctum, after three years as the team’s forwards coach from 2015 to 2017, is evidence that Larkham’s little stunt in the lead-up to Saturday’s Test with the Pumas is nothing but banter.

It’s amazing what a single win can do. A 23-18 victory over the Springboks in Brisbane has instantly lifted spirits in Wallabies camp after a few weeks of, in Larkham’s words, “personal attacks on players and coaches in the media.”

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If the Wallabies had been in the midst of a five-game losing streak, you wonder whether Larkham would be so blasé about beginning a banter war with Ledesma. Clearly Larkham was enjoying himself, so the sledging continued.

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Given Ledesma has been closer than anyone to the Wallabies in recent years, would he try and rip off everything he has seen?

“No doubt about that,” Larkham said, continuing the light-hearted facade. “He came into a really good period of Australian rugby and he’s certainly going to take a lot of the stuff we did away with him. I’ve seen it already. Particularly the scrumming stuff. A lot of the techniques I’d spoken to him about he’s implementing now. He’s still inconsistent with a lot of the stuff they are doing but they’re only going to get better week in, week out the more they play.”

Change: Argentina coach Mario Ledesma in his new role with the Pumas.

Change: Argentina coach Mario Ledesma in his new role with the Pumas. Credit:EPA

What about that Argentinian backline, Stephen?

“Yeah, just no real direction there,” Larham said, yet again, without flinching. “I think they’ve got [Nicolas] Sanchez running the playbook at the moment and he’s got no experience. It’s going to be an interesting game that I’m looking forward to watching ... more so for the number of errors they’re going to make.”

In the fair dinkum stakes, Larkham and the Wallabies will be extremely cautious of this Pumas oufit, who after beating South Africa in Mendoza were an outside chance of beating the All Blacks in the last 10 minutes in Nelson at the weekend.

Every year the Pumas’ set-piece and off-loading game is discussed at length and there have been signs in Super Rugby this year Australian team have struggled with the Jaguares’ knack of keeping the ball alive and playing an unstructured style.

“As much as we joke about it, these guys are starting to play some good footy under Mario,” Larkham said. “It’s about making sure our preparation is right coming into the game.”

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez will be pulling the strings in attack on Saturday.

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez will be pulling the strings in attack on Saturday.Credit:AP

Larkham said he was happy with the new 10-12 combination of Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua against South Africa, as well as the contribution of dumped playmaker Bernard Foley off the bench.

“Kurtley was very energetic when he got his hands on the ball and took a couple of opportunities to run and made a half little line break here or there which was good,” Larkham said. “He added some energy to the attack which is what we’ve been trying to do for a while.

“I think Matty organised the group very well. He was doing a lot of the calling out on the field and did a good job with that. When Bernard came on he had a bit of energy with him as well."