Thursday 21 March 2019

Pocock holds key in Wallaby bid to unlock buoyant Pumas

David Pocock of Australia smiles during the Australia Captain's Run ahead of the Semi Final against Argentina
David Pocock of Australia smiles during the Australia Captain's Run ahead of the Semi Final against Argentina
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

For some Ireland fans this will be a bit like fetching up to Lansdowne Road in 1999 to watch Argentina and France in a game where Ireland were supposed to be. In that case it was actually a quarter-final that Ireland had lost out on, but you get the picture.

For Michael Cheika, that image is one he is immensely relieved to be a part of, given the way things were winding down in Twickenham last Sunday. A matter of seconds away from going out of the World Cup, Craig Joubert gave him a reprieve. And then, when he sat down to watch the video of the Ireland game, the Pumas revealed a weakness that Cheika will have been banging on about all week.

The minutes immediately after a Test match are impossible to choreograph. What you get in that time-zone is usually off-the-cuff stuff, driven by the emotion of what has unfolded over the previous hour and a half. So a monumental win for the Pumas in the Millennium was followed by a lap of honour with lots of crowd interaction. After a quarter-final?

It's a big leap from that mental state back to a point where you have parked what you were celebrating prematurely, and are back on track for winning a semi-final. Perhaps the reason the Pumas were so delighted with beating Ireland was that it saw them getting to a semi-final four years ahead of Daniel Hourcade's schedule - one which hadn't gone down too well in some quarters in the country when he aired it.

His transformation of the Argentine squad will take on a turbo charge next season with all but six of his current panel lining out in Super Rugby, for the Pampas. Combine that with the Pumas playing in the Rugby Championship and suddenly you have the unique - and scary for the rest of us - departure of a quasi-national squad operating together for an entire season, spiced up come the Test programme with a handful of players coming back from Europe. Now might be a good time to get a few bob down on them for Japan 2019.

For the moment, however, they have a few hills to climb. Aside from the mental one, Cheika will have been in the ear of referee Wayne Barnes about the wholesale illegality of the torpedo tackling that stopped Ireland in their tracks. Jerome Garces missed the first, from Tomas Lavanini inside two minutes, and the two - one successful, one near miss - thereafter from himself and partner Guido Petti.

Then there is Barnes himself. Remarkably, the Wallabies have never lost with him on duty - which over 12 Tests is a lot of rugby, including the win over New Zealand in Sydney in August. His only previous experience of a Puma-Wallaby Test saw a record win for Australia, in Rosario two years ago. Argentina are not radically different in personnel now from that night, but there was no Tuculet or Cordero behind the scrum or the excellent Senatore at No 8. As for momentum, now they have some, which they didn't have back then.

Maintaining it will hinge on the presence or otherwise of David Pocock. While Ireland struggled mostly in vain to break up the Pumas' phase play, this is the Aussie back-rower's specialist subject. He was named to start, as was Israel Folau, but it's not certain that he'll be there when Barnes blows the whistle. If it was a huge boost to Ireland in Auckland four years ago to see him out of the side then the Pumas will feel the same way. His presence will decide the issue.

Argentina v Australia, TV3/ITV, 4.0

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport