Round 2’s repeat of last week’s matches continued in San Juan with Argentina hosting Australia. An ill-disciplined second half from the Pumas had cost them last week, but they started quickest this week, getting the ball wide, and when Tom Wright fumbled Juan Imhoff’s grubber under pressure, the Pumas wing collected the ball and ran in for the opening try after just 61 seconds, Emiliano Boffelli adding the extras. The great start continued as heavy pressure in defence forced a scrum, from which Santiago Carreras kicked a 50/22 up to the Wallabies 5m line, and after a series of phases, Thomas Gallo fought his way over for a try under the posts, leaving a simple conversion for Boffelli to make it 14-0 in 7 minutes before the Wallabies—who had been forced into a number of changes from last week due to injuries—could even fire a shot. A timely jackal from Fraser McReight brought the next Pumas attack to an end and allowed the Wallabies to kick to the corner, and after Rob Valentini was sent charging into the defence off the top of the lineout, James Slipper was following up and carried over for a crucial try, converted by James O’Connor. Slipper and Valentini were combining again to put the Wallabies on the front foot again just minutes later, and after a series of phases in the 22, the Wallabies earned a penalty for offsides that allowed O’Connor to cut the lead to 4 points. The Aussies had all he momentum and were finding gaps too often, and when Jordan Petaia was put through a gap in the 22 by O’Connor he drew the last man and fed the ball back to O’Connor for what appeared to be a try, until Karl Dickson found an offence from James Slipper at the breakdown just before. That decision proved crucial, as Carreras kicked for touch, and when Taniela Tupou offended at that lineout, they kicked into the Wallabies 22 and worked a gap for Jerónimo de la Fuente to scythe through and score, though it came at the expense of a leg injury for the Pumas centre. The Wallabies were straight back on the attack through Len Ikitau and Lalakai Foketi and made it right up to the try-line, only for Nic White to be adjudged as having not come through the game to clean out. The next try came out of nowhere on the half hour, as the Wallabies failed to deal with a simple kick forward under minimal pressure—White choosing to play a blocking role when Petaia held off expecting him to take the catch—which led to the ball bouncing and O’Connor, who was ruching across to cover, juggling the ball straight into the hands of Juan Martín González, who gratefully took the ball 40m unchallenged to score for the 2ⁿᵈ consecutive week. And with 5 minutes left of the half, Boffelli was the next to take advantage of Australian struggles under the high ball, as he broke away and just managed to ride Marika Koroibete’s tackle to ground the ball, though officials were clearly not watching the replays as they were unable to see the compelling evidence that the ball had been grounded. As an inept performance from karl Dickson and his officials continued, Marcos Kremer was wrongly adjudged to have not used his arms in a low tackle a minute before the break, and the Wallabies kicked down into the corner, only to be turned over at the lineout, ending the half with the score at 26-10.
It was the Wallabies who created the first chance after the break, with Valetini again being released off the back of a lineout, and though he was stopped just short of the line, he offloaded to Petaia, whose momentum carried him through a tackle by Gonzalo Bertranou, who managed to strip the ball before it could be grounded. The second half began settling into a rhythm of the Pumas defence holding out (sometimes under heavy pressure close to their line) and eventually clearing their lines, but one good kick chase caught Tom Wright in 2 minds and he was snagged and caught holding on to the ball by Imhoff, allowing Boffelli to kick the first points of the half. As the clock ticked past the hour, a monster maul by the Pumas brought them into the 22, and as they went through the phases, Gallo eventually forced himself over for his second try, though he appeared to be stopped short and then go again. The Wallabies were 26 points down with 15 minutes left, but quickly hit back through a try from Len Ikitau. to give them a little hope, however this hope was all-but ended just moments later as Tate McDermott’s 50/22 took them deep into the Pumas redzone, only for them to give away a penalty at the breakdown. And when Argentina turned the ball over with just minutes left, Boffelli chased down Carreras’ grubber to go over, and with the clock in the red, replacement halves Tomás Cubelli and Tomás Albornoz combined off a scrum for one last try, which Boffelli converted for a 48-17 victory that leaves the Pumas top of the table after 2 rounds.
Last week I suggested that the Pumas had got their tactics wrong by not getting their back 3 involved in attack. While it seems that Michael Cheika agreed as it was the complete opposite this week.
In attack, the big carriers in the pack and centres were still involved, but there was a lot more quick spreading of the ball to the wings, who were certainly enjoying their chance to run at the opposition.
But more important was the kicking. This week, they were frequently kicking to compete, with Bertranou and Carreras putting up high balls that were just the right length for their back 3 to attack. Boffelli especially was having success outjumping his man. But even the slightly longer kicks were causing the Wallabies problems, as they started having issues getting organised in time to make the catch.
This is clearly a team building and improving as Michael Cheika gets more time with them. If they can continue building like this, they will be a real threat come the World Cup once again.
While it must be noted that Australia are currently playing with a number of players out injured, they are notably struggling at fullback. While there had been talk of Jordan Petaia learning the position, Test rugby came around before he had time to sufficiently do so, so with him being used on the wing, it is Tom Wright who has been pulling on the 15 shirt of late. And it is costing the Wallabies.
Though he may have played the position previously in rugby league, the 13-man code uses its fullbacks differently, and it is notable how often he looked like a winger covering the position, being much more willing to try running kicks back than to get into a territory game, while also not looking fully comfortable covering Argentina’s much more varied kicking game in this match.
The odd thing is that Reece Hodge, who has plenty of experience at 15, was available on the bench. While I imagine that Hodge is being held back due to his versatility covering so many positions off the bench, and Petaia, Koroibete and Wright all above Hodge in the pecking order should everyone be played in their ideal positions, rugby is not about simply getting your best 15 players on the pitch, but getting the players who fit the position, and I think that if they want success against South Africa and New Zealand in their remaining matches, they need to play someone used to the position.