Australia vs. Argentina: Players with a Point to Prove
Argentina will never have a better chance of registering their maiden Rugby Championship victory than when they meet struggling Australia in Perth on this upcoming Saturday night.
The Wallabies go into this game on the back of five defeats in their last six outings, including comprehensive losses to the British Lions, New Zealand and South Africa—who thumped them by a record 38-12 in Brisbane last week.
Australia are in a state of crisis and head coach Ewen McKenzie—who was appointed after Robbie Deans' sacking following the series loss to the Lions—needs to turn things around, and quickly.
Although yet to win a Rugby Championship match, the Pumas have been competitive in two of their three games this campaign, including on their last outing in Waikato when they pushed the All Blacks before going down 28-13.
Both sides have much to play for, for differing reasons, and we look at players who need to step up this weekend.
James O'Connor, Australia
James O'Connor has been a shadow of his former self this season, struggling with form after being bounced around the Wallabies backline and with confidence due to their poor run.
It's not all O'Connor's fault, as the previous coach Deans clearly played him out of position against the Lions, and he has not received any decent ball since returning to the wing.
But the youngster received both barrels from former Wallabies great Michael Lynagh earlier this week as he was seen joking with the Springboks players after the heavy defeat.
O'Connor has a checkered disciplinary record and it does him no favours when he appears not to be affected by a record defeat, as ESPN quotes Lynagh saying:
Australia are in a huge hole and I think that is because they have got too comfortable. James O'Connor was laughing with the Springboks at the end and while it's okay to be a good sportsman, I don't think a willy-nilly performance like that hurts them enough.
They need to have a long hard look at themselves and start working harder as the honeymoon period for McKenzie is certainly over.
O'Connor needs to find some form and fast, otherwise he will find himself without any support, both within the Wallabies camp and amongst fans.
Nic White, Australia
It's not the best time to be making your first start for your country when they are under fire from all quarters and facing a team desperate for a first tournament win.
That's the task facing Brumbies No. 9 Nic White, who has been handed a start ahead of the Wallabies' regular scrum-half Will Genia.
White will need to do the basics well. He'll need to marshal his forwards so they give him quicker ball than they have all summer and provide a smooth service for his backs. Not so easy when you're under intense pressure.
Genia has been clearly misfiring, but he is one of the Wallabies' truly world-class players and his will be big boots to fill. Welcome to Test rugby Mr. White.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Argentina
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe has nothing to prove in terms of his playing ability. The flanker has been one of Argentina's finest players for the best part of a decade.
But the pressure is now on the Pumas' skipper to deliver a first Rugby Championship win, and there has never been a better time.
Argentina have shown that they can compete at this level and last season they pushed the Wallabies all the way before losing both matches narrowly.
They know they can break their duck, and it is up to Lobbe to lead them across the finishing line to victory. Too often the Pumas have faded in the last quarter and Lobbe must use his powers of leadership to maintain focus for the full 80 minutes.
Victory is within the Pumas' grasp and they must prove they are good enough to grab it.
Felipe Contepomi, Argentina
Like his skipper, Felipe Contepomi has been a stalwart for the Pumas over the last 10 years, and he has nothing to prove after an exceptional career.
But he is reaching the end of that career and his recall for the Australia clash puts him under pressure to prove it was justified.
Furthermore, Contepomi is one of the Pumas' leaders, and like Lobbe he must use all his experience and nous to guide them to victory.
It doesn't matter how they do it, as long as they finish with one point more on the scoreboard. This is Contepomi's chance to register another memorable achievement for his country.
Ben Alexander, Australia
Australia's Ben Alexander has been recalled for the Argentina game, and presumably Wallabies coach Mckenzie is hoping the 54-times capped prop can help shore up the Wallabies front row.
The Wallabies know what's coming at them on Saturday, and the Pumas have made no bones about their desire to dominate up front—and why not play to your strengths?
Alexander is back in for Sekope Kepu, and with Stephen Moore and James Slipper he must find a way to counter the Pumas' power up front. If they fail, then they may just as well hand them victory.
Both teams will still be adjusting to the new engagement laws, but that will not stop Argentina looking to grind their way to victory.
Prop Marcos Ayerza admitted as much, as carried by ESPN.
A pushover scrum is five points, same as 20 phases of fancy game. I prefer having the adrenaline and satisfaction of a pushover scrum. A good scrum dominance is second to none.
Both teams will be focused on that area. It will be a great contest and I feel nervous about it. I think one of our big strengths that gives us confidence is playing the physical game - the tight forward game. We pride ourselves in that area.