Beefed-up Wallabies ready for Pumas pounding
Embattled Australia coach Robbie Deans has beefed up his team in anticipation of a pounding from Argentina Saturday in the final fixture of the 2012 Rugby Championship.
The New Zealand-born handler made five changes to the team crushed 31-8 by South Africa last weekend — a third defeat in five southern hemisphere championship outings for the injury-stricken Wallabies.
Mike Harris replaces Berrick Barnes at full-back, Ben Tapuai comes in for Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre and Nick Cummins wins a first cap on the right wing with Dominic Shipperley relegated to the reserves.
James Slipper, who did not help the floundering Australian cause in South Africa by being sin binned after coming on as a replacement, starts ahead of Benn Robinson at loosehead prop for a team lying third on the table.
Sitaleki Timani, whose previous six Test appearances have been as a lock, has been drafted into the back row on the blindside with Dave Dennis dropping to a bench comprising five forwards and just two backs.
Although last-place Argentina were swamped 54-15 by champions New Zealand in La Plata last weekend, Deans is under no illusions about the threat posed by the South Americans as they seek a first Championship victory.
“We know the Pumas will come straight at us, hoping to profit at the collisions the same way the Springboks did last weekend,” said the man who developed Canterbury Crusaders into the most potent Super Rugby force.
“That issue has been addressed — internally in our discussions and also in our team selections — and we have gone for players best suited to a physical approach.” The fixture at the 40,000-seat Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, a football ground like all others used by the Pumas for home fixtures, will be a special occasion for veteran Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe as he rises to 111 caps.
That makes the skipper the most capped Australian forward, ahead of retired flank George Smith, and the second most capped Wallaby after legendary scrum-half George Gregan, who made 139 appearances.
Argentina coach and former World Cup loose forward Santiago Phelan has refused to panic after the seven-try mauling in La Plata, naming the same starting line-up for the Australia Test.
He hopes his show of faith will heal most of the mental scars inflicted by world champions New Zealand, who recovered from conceding an early try to provide a masterclass of power and pace as they ran the home team ragged.
Replacement back Martin Rodriguez dislocated a shoulder trying to stem the All Blacks tide and his place on the bench goes to Nicolas Sanchez, who stood in for injured Juan Martin Hernandez in a 16-16 home draw against South Africa.
A second change among the substitutes sees forward Leonardo Senatore replace Tomas Vallejos as the Pumas try to build on an unlucky 23-19 loss in Australia last month that could have been averted with better place kicking.
Argentina have hosted Australia seven times since 1979, winning three, losing three and drawing one with the Wallabies emerging 17-6 victors the last time they clashed 10 years ago in Buenos Aires.