Quality Australia team stand in the way of Argentina’s first ever final
The rugby world has been dominated by the name of Craig Joubert this week. The South African official made the wrong call late on in the quarter-final encounter between Scotland and Australia that essentially denied the Scots a shot at the final four.
This midweek a World Rugby statement confirmed he’d got wrong the biggest call of the competition and various pundits and experts have been queuing up to let rip. Beneath all of the controversy, the beneficiates Australia have remained reasonably quiet and continue to prepare for their semi-final showdown on Sunday.
The Wallabies out-scored Scotland 5-3 on tries but the final scoreline sent Michael Cheika’s men through by a solitary point 35-34. The current Rugby Championship champions made plenty of mistakes in the match but lets not forget how good Australia were when dispatching England and Wales in Pool A.
Bernard Foley, so deadly with the boot against England and Wales, was off-colour last weekend but the Green and Gold still got the job done to continue their fine run of results under Cheika. The Wallabies have won nine of their 10 fixtures in 2015 and that includes a victory over their old rivals the All Blacks.
Their sole defeat came in the reverse fixture against New Zealand and so it’s understandable to see Australia quoted as 4/9 favourites to book their place in the final. After all, the Green and Gold have won their only meeting under Cheika against Argentina by 25 points in July as well as six of the seven meetings since 2012.
However, four of those losses were by seven points or fewer and the South Americans have made significant progress in the three years since they joined the Rugby Championship. A return of W2-D1-L18 is far from flattering but Los Pumas have been ultra competitive in the majority of those matches and even enjoyed a 37-25 win in South Africa earlier this year as well as beating the Wallabies at home in 2014.
Argentina have impressed many throughout the competition but labelling Los Pumas as the tournament’s surprise package is perhaps a little disrespectful. Argentina opened their account by giving New Zealand a real test before securing bonus try-point wins over Georgia, Tonga and Namibia in their remaining pool fixtures.
It was their quarter-final win over Ireland last weekend that made the rugby world stand up and take note. The South Americans produced a stunning display of clinical, skilful and enterprising rugby to runaway with the match in the opening and closing 20 minutes, deservedly taking their place in the final four.
Fly-half Nicholas Sanchez has proven his worth with the boot as well as in his playmaking role but Los Pumas are also backed up by a powerful pack, strong set-piece, creative playmakers as well as pace and handling skills in their outside backs. Argentina have been given a + 5.5 point handicap start on Sunday and that holds plenty of appeal. And the selection appears all the more attractive with the news from Australia’s camp that key trio Israel Folau, David Pocock and Scott Sio are all injury doubts.
With that in mind, we’ll count on Los Pumas proving themselves as one of the world’s leading lights on the rugby stage by backing the underdogs off the handicap at Twickenham this weekend.