The second of the all Southern Hemisphere semi-finals is set to kick off early tomorrow morning and promises to be a tough match.
Australia will be looking to prove they deserve their spot, and Argentina will play like they have nothing to lose. We are in for one hell of a fight.
The pool of death turned out to be a misnomer – Australia beat one of the worst English World Cup squads ever assembled, and a Welsh team that lacked key players. Their performance last week against Scotland highlighted their inconsistency and lack of composure under pressure.
Craig Joubert notwithstanding, for a team that many picked to win the tournament, the Aussies are lucky to have made it this far in the competition.
In contrast, the Pumas are killing it. Despite being issued their quarter final ticket as soon as the country names for Pool C were pulled out of the hat, their performances against New Zealand and Ireland show that Argentina are a solid, attacking team that live by the adage that the best defence is a good offense.
Australia will go into the game as favourites, having only lost to Argentina once in the past 18 years. But they have every reason to be worried. Argentina’s innovative attacking play has seen them wrack up 222 points and 26 tries so far in this tournament – second only to New Zealand. They outclassed Ireland and arguably should have beaten the All Blacks. If the Aussies think that they can squeak by with the form that they showed against Scotland, then they have another thing coming.
Both sides will be fielding their best teams. Australia will be thankful that Israel Folau and David Pocock are fit enough to start. The pair were absent from the near miss against Scotland due to injuries obtained in their last pool match with Wales.
Pocock’s return will be a welcome boost to the team. The number 8 has dominated the breakdown in pool matches and is currently leading the tournament in turnovers. Argentina will need to work hard to restrict his influence on the game. Similarly, the inclusion of Folau will make Australia incredibly dangerous under the high ball. Midfield bombs have been used as a tactic frequently this World Cup and will no doubt play a part in the game tomorrow.
Unsurprisingly, Daniel Hourcade’s side will remain almost unchanged from the line-up that smashed Ireland. The only addition will be Marcelo Bosch at outside centre, who missed the quarter final after being cited for a dangerous tackle in the game against Namibia.
Two key players to watch for Argentina are fly half Nicolas Sanchez and inside centre Juan Martin Hernandez. Their passing in the midfield in the game against Ireland were responsible for setting up two of the tries, and Ireland struggled throughout the match to keep them contained.
The scrum matchup will be a very interesting prospect. A lot has already been discussed in the media about Mario Ledesma – former Argentine hooker and current Australian forwards coach – and his transformation of the Australian scrum. However the Aussie set piece showed weakness against Scotland, something that they won’t be able to get away with when engaged with one of the world’s best looseheads, Marcos Ayerza, and the rest of the Argentinian pack.
Australia will have to remain composed if they want to win. Their squad has the experience required, they have their best men on the field – realistically they should be able to get the job done. Hopefully they have been able to distance themselves from the close call against Scotland and the circus that has surrounded the controversial nature of the win.
Off the back of smashing Ireland – the Pumas have got to rate themselves. And the beauty of being the relatively new lads at the southern hemisphere rugby big boys table means they are not burdened by the pressure of expectation. They have gotten as far as they ever have, and it just takes one more win to reach the final.
Both teams will have to keep their cool, as all eyes will be on the ref to enforce as strictly as possible to make sure the right team makes it into the final. This might be especially difficult for Argentina, who have always been known for being a little bit scrappy. It would be sad if the outcome is decided by yellow cards rather than tries.
I predict that Australia will win by ten points but it will be a hard fought game punctuated by penalties. Just like the Cricket & Netball World Cups, it will be an Aussie vs. Kiwi final (with hopefully a different outcome than the other two tournaments).
As a bit of a side note, Argentina’s performance at this World Cup should serve as evidence to show that the way to turn good minnow teams into Championship contenders is to end their isolation and get them playing in regular tournaments against the best teams in the world.
In the decade from 2000 to 2010, the Pumas matched up against New Zealand only four times, now with their inclusion in The Rugby Championship, they get the chance to play against all of the titans of southern hemisphere rugby at least twice a year. There is little doubt that that the extra time playing top tier rugby has made a huge difference.
Given that they are a very young side, the future looks bright for Argentinian rugby and they will be a force to be reckoned with in another four years.