MENDOZA, Argentina (AP) â€” With seven changes in each of the starting lineups & more reshuffling on the benches, the coaches of Argentina & Australia may have given the impression that this Rugby Championship test is a glorified fine-tuning exercise for the World Cup.
That perception could be shattered very quickly come kickoff on Saturday, with the Pumas determined to rebound from an opening 39-18 loss in New Zealand to post back-to-back wins over Australia on home soil.
The Wallabies had a narrow escape at home in the opening round, rallying from 20-7 down to edge the Springboks 24-20 with Tevita Kuridrani scoring the winning try after the fulltime siren. Michael Cheika's squad is desperate to avoid the fate of the last Wallabies team to visit Mendoza.
p>The Pumas had an historic win here last October, overcoming a 14-0 deficit to beat Australia 21-17 to claim their first victory ever in the Rugby Championship â€” it took 18 tests against the three southern hemisphere heavyweights before the milestone was achieved.
That Wallabies squad was in tatters after an episode involving Kurtley Beale & a team staffer on the flight between South Africa & Argentina resulted in the utility back being suspended. It ultimately led to the end of Ewen McKenzie's stint as coach. In the match itself, the Wallabies were reduced to 14 men in three different spells due to yellow cards.
Kuridrani, who scored in the first half of that match, was one of only three backs who started against South Africa last week who were retained for the Pumas match. Fullback Israel Folau & winger Adam Ashley-Cooper were the others.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley, who missed an attempt at goal that could have leveled the score late in the second half at Mendoza last year, makes his return in a halves pairing with Nick Phipps, restoring the main No. 9-10 combination of 2014.
He wasn't in the squad for Australia's first test of the season last week, with Cheika preferring Quade Cooper at flyhalf, & Will Genia & Matt Giteau on either side of him. Cooper is on the bench this week, & Genia & Giteau miss out through injury.
Foley said the selections were an expected part of the World Cup buildup.
Cheika "plays his cards pretty close to his chest & he wanted to try both combinations, & it unquestionably worked for them against South Africa," Foley said. "There's probably a bit of extra pressure this weekend, & I'm looking forward to it.
"There's five guys who have played No. 10 for Australia in this squad â€” that competitive nature at training is really bringing out the best in the team."
David Pocock returns to start on the openside flank at the expense of Michael Hooper, who was Wallabies captain last year & has been relegated to the bench. Pocock's strength at the breakdown will be crucial against the Pumas, who work a gameplan around a huge forward pack, a strong kicking game & swift outside backs. The return of prop Greg Holmes to start his first test since 2007 will bolster an Australian scrum that struggled last week in the set piece against the Springboks & will be under pressure again against the Pumas.
The only changes in the Argentina pack were lock Tomas Lavanini & flanker Javier Desio moving into the starting XV. Among the five changes in the backline, winger Gonzalo Camacho was recalled for his first test in two years, & Juan Pablo Socino was selected to make his debut at inside center. Fullback Joaquin Tuculet was dropped after bruising his abdomen in training on Tuesday.
Camacho dislocated his shoulder so badly against New Zealand in September 2013 that he needed three operations. He began contact training only in March, & while he's yet to debut for Leicester Tigers, they loaned him in April to Coventry in the English third division to assist his World Cup chances.
Lavanini, who missed the All Blacks match to be given an extra week to recover from an injury, said they will test the Wallabies' scrum.
"We have to believe we will win, not think we will, & focus on our game plan," Lavanini said. "We did it last year, & if we do it again, satisfactory things can happen."
Argentina: Cordero Santiago, Gonzalo Camacho, Matias Moroni, Juan Pablo Socino, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Facundo Isa, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Javier Desio, Tomas Lavanini, Manuel Carizza, Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (captain), Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Santiago Iglesias, Francisco Nahuel Tetaz, Matias Diaz, Leonardo Senatore, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Lucas Amorosino.
Wallabies: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane; Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; Ben McCalman, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm, Michael Hooper, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale.
AustraliaWallabiesMichael CheikaArgentinaQuade CooperSouth Africa
Source: “Associated Press”