Sunday 21 January 2018

Brent Pope: Wallabies might prove one step too far for impressive Pumas

Flying winger Juan Imhoff gives Argentina an added dimension in attack
Flying winger Juan Imhoff gives Argentina an added dimension in attack

This weekend sees the Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-finals, which is in effect a Rugby Championship play-off involving all four Southern Hemisphere rivals.

The All Blacks take on old rivals South Africa tomorrow while Australia clash with Argentina on Sunday.

Based on championship series form alone, Argentina look a little out of their depth, having only ever won a couple of matches against their more illustrious opponents.

But on RWC form, and given the way they are playing, it is just as conceivable that they will beat Australia and get into their first ever final.

Last weekend against France the All Blacks gave a masterclass on power and precision play, and in that sort of form they are virtually unbeatable.

The question is whether they can repeat that game-plan against a foe that has always looked to physically impose themselves on all opposition.

South Africa's only real chance is to out-muscle the All Blacks up front, and thus deny them any quality, go-forward ball.


Richie McCaw always leads by example for New Zealand
Richie McCaw always leads by example for New Zealand

Of course on their day the South Africans have that ability, it is just they have not really shown it this season.

Big Springbok numner eight Duane Vermeulen is a catalyst for everything the Boks do well while veteran loose forward Shalke Burger, although often one dimensional in his play, is still a powerful yard gainer.

The problem lies in South Africa's inability to score tries. They rely too much on brute force and bludgeon and there is no mystery around the way they will approach this game.

Unlike Argentina, the Boks cannot change their culture overnight, even if they wanted to. New Zealand as they did against France, will seek to move the Springboks around the field at pace, so that their big physical pack becomes largely ineffectual.

Despite his age, All Black great Richie McCaw is still one of the best genuine open side flankers anywhere in the world, and with their No 7 getting to the ball first, it would seem that the All Blacks operate with too much width for South Africa just to rely on their tramline plays. I'll take the All Blacks to win by 10.

Argentina can win their showdown with the Wallabies if they just play the way they did against New Zealand and Ireland.

But my fear is that - a bit like France in previous World Cups, that they will have already celebrated and will not be quite as focused as they should be.

In many ways they have already succeeded in this tournament, and that may just take the edge off their play.


Last week, we saw the tears of commitment prior to the match, and Argentina will need all that again on Sunday.

On the other hand, Australia played their get out of jail card against Scotland, and wily Ccach Michael Chekia will have them primed up for this one.

They will struggle to match Argentina up front, in scrums and mauls, but I suggest that is not where the game will be won or lost.

It could come down to Australia's pace in the loose forwards, and the skills of their back three, where the Wallabies may just have a little too much speed and width for Argentina.

Ireland played into the Pumas' hands by keeping the attack zones narrow. Australian will spread the ball wide and use a quicker back row to repeatedly move the point of contact away from the Pumas' muscular pack.

It will be an intriguing battle of wits, but Cheika's experience in grinding out wins may just prove the difference.

Australia by six.

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