Australia vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned
Just about as tight a victory as Ewen McKenzie could have hoped his side would pull off, Australia overcame Argentina 14-13 to get their first win of this year's Rugby Championship.
The Pumas fought tooth and nail Down Under but eventually came up empty-handed once more, meaning their chances of finishing at the bottom of the competition look all the more likely.
In the fallout of the result, both teams will certainly have talking points to take away from such a tight encounter, with some more positive than others.
Israel Folau Getting into Gear
In the first two series matches against New Zealand, Israel Folau was understandably fielded out on the wing, with Jesse Mogg given some of his first international action at full-back.
However, Mogg has shown himself to be a defensive liability, meaning that Folau has been the man McKenzie has looked to for cover in the No. 15 jersey.
In that aspect, the Waratahs utility has not disappointed.
In his purest form, Folau is simply a superb athlete and all-round asset to the Wallabies' back ranks, performing well in his full-back responsibilities thus far.
A safe pair of hands under the high ball who’s capable of taking the ball to the opposition at pace and has a fine understanding with Christian Lealiifano, Folau might be more accustomed the wing or centre positions, but is a fine asset to call upon at full-back.
Jury Still out on Half-Back Debate
It was announced earlier in the week that Will Genia would be a shock omission from McKenzie’s starting lineup, instead replaced by Nic White at half-back.
The decision sparked huge debate among the Australian masses and will still be discussed after White’s display against Argentina.
The 23-year-old was impressive upon his return to the Wallabies lineup, especially in his kicking game, finding touch time and again with some expertly executed efforts.
However, Genia is a loved idol among the Wallabies squad and claimant to the throne of best scrum-half in the world, meaning that that No. 9 jersey is still very much up for grabs, regardless of McKenzie’s motives.
Felipe Contepomi a Massive Loss for Pumas
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images
Even at the grand old age of 36, Felipe Contepomi showed against Australia just how big a presence he can be in Santiago Phelan’s lineup, as well as how hard the nation might find it to replace him.
The Argentine will return to his native country at the end of this Rugby Championship, taking away one of Phelan’s most versatile assets that might leave more of a dent in the national side than first thought.
Deployed at inside centre in Perth this weekend, Contepomi was everywhere, not always abiding by the laws of the game at the breakdown, but nevertheless making a frequent nuisance of himself.
What’s more, it was the veteran who set up Juan Manuel Leguizamon for a late try, trucking the ball up with ferocity before offloading to the score-happy forward.
In terms of playmaking and back-line understanding, Contepomi’s absence is set to create a sizable gap in the Argentina side.
Wallabies Show Potential to Win Dirty
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
While far from the most entertaining affair in the tournament, Australia’s win in the conditions will have been encouraging for Ewen McKenzie as his side showed great overall discipline.
It’s in that kind of wet weather that games can often go against the favourites. In his half-time interview, James O’Connor even went as far to describe possession as like playing with a bar of soap.
However, McKenzie’s men picked their battles well, kicking when necessary and opting for the easy points where others might be tempted into kicking for touch.
At times, Michael Hooper could be heard calling “three, six, nine” to his fellow forwards, showing that the Perth hosts were more than happy to kick over and bring the points in bit by bit.
While it’s always nice to mount a massive points tally on one’s opposition, especially when New Zealand and South Africa have already done so against Argentina, it’s important to remember the Wallabies are still a side in their infancy right now.
Under McKenzie’s regime, Australia will once again be learning just how they can go about their games and it’s good to see that the side is capable of seeing out the scrappier results too.
Refereeing Presence as Important as the Players’
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Earlier on Saturday, South Africa and New Zealand fought out a scrappy and muddied affair at Eden Park, containing four yellow cards, a red card and a whole bunch of refereeing controversy. The All Blacks won 29-15.
In that match, it was Romain Poite overseeing matters, but the Frenchman made some questionable decisions both in open play and at the set piece. As a result, the game was at times slowed unnecessarily and made for a far less enjoyable contest than those watching may have initially hoped for.
In direct contrast, Nigel Owens had the refereeing responsibilities in a very wet meeting at the Subiaco Oval, but was a far more positive influence on the game.
The Welsh official was in constant contact with both sets of players and allowed play to run as much as possible, making for a better match for both players and fans alike.
The two different styles perfectly illustrated how a consistent standard of refereeing is just as essential to elite rugby as a good standard of playing might be.
McKenzie’s Back Line Beginning to Take Shape
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
As is only natural with McKenzie having taken over the team little more than six weeks ago, Australia have been going through growing pains all over the squad.
The Wallabies coach is slowly experimenting with his players and gradually finding out just what the best combinations are throughout his side.
One area of the pitch that has been particularly contentious in recent weeks is McKenzie’s back-line setup, where the chopping and changing is likely to continue.
However, Nick Cummins and James O’Connor looked like an effective pairing on the flanks against Argentina, performing well both in attack and defence.
Quade Cooper looks to be the superior choice at fly-half for now although it’s more than likely Matt Toomua will continue in competing for a spot, while Jesse Mogg’s international involvement doesn’t appear to be in great shape.
With Folau again asserting himself as Australia’s highest tryscorer with a superb score against Argentina, the Wallabies have an assured presence at full-back, but are starting to piece together the rest of the puzzle.