By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australia side in desperate need of another Rugby Championship win to build some momentum come up against an Argentina team confident they have a chance of snapping a 35-year losing streak Down Under on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
The Wallabies broke a shorter, but perhaps more morale-sapping, losing streak of their own with their first win in five matches last weekend when they ground out a narrow victory over South Africa in Brisbane.
They had started the championship, as has become almost a tradition in non-World Cup years, with back-to-back thrashings at the hands of the All Blacks and the scars of the Bledisloe Cup failures always take time, and a few wins, to heal.
It was a last-gasp victory over the Springboks in Brisbane three years ago that sparked a run of wins that ended in the 2015 World Cup final and Australian rugby could dearly do with another after a miserable couple of years.
Coach Michael Cheika has overhauled his squad since 2015 but, with the next edition of the World Cup just over a year away, needs to now see some semblance of a side that can regularly beat their rivals in the top tier of world rugby.
While he has changed many of his personnel, Cheika has retained a few key players and welcomed back two of them, loose forward David Pocock and outside back Israel Folau, on Thursday when he named his team for the test at Robina Stadium.
Cheika’s mantra is to always bring something different, though, so Dane Haylett-Petty remains at fullback and Folau will start on the wing for the first time in five years after 61 tests in the number 15 shirt.
Pocock, who had a neck injury, and Folau, who was struggling with an ankle injury, were both late withdrawals last week along with lock Adam Coleman and the Wallabies will be hoping for no similar disruptions this week.
While Cheika also retained his experimental playmaking combination of flyhalf Kurtley Beale and inside centre Matt Toomua, it might be how effectively his side can contain the opposing backline that could decide the contest.
Argentina have come a long way from the forward-dominated game that earned them a place at rugby’s top table and the Jaguares Super Rugby side that almost entirely makes up the Pumas squad have developed a swashbuckling attacking style.
The Jaguares won two of their three matches on the road in Australia this season and with former Wallabies forwards coach Mario Ledesma now in charge of the national team, there is a quiet confidence the Pumas can break their long drought.
The margin of their 46-24 defeat to the All Blacks in Nelson last week belied a dynamic, high-tempo performance from the Pumas that earned them three tries against the world champions.
With the maestro Nicolas Sanchez orchestrating the backline from flyhalf and the attacking talent of the outside back trio of Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano, the Wallabies will certainly have their hands full in defence.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)