After the Rugby Championship is decided in Johannesburg, an equally desperate match to avoid the wooden spoon is to be settled by Argentina and Australia in Rosario today.
More than five hours after the All Blacks and Springboks have tussled for the title, the Pumas and Wallabies kick off 8,300km away, both seeking validation in Estadio Gigante de Arroyito.
It is the last and best opportunity in their second championship campaign for the Pumas to win a match. Tougher at home, the Pumas sense the Wallabies are vulnerable. Argentina’s comeback ran out of time in a 14-13 loss to Australia in Perth three weeks ago, while the Wallabies still appear short on confidence and set-piece strength.
However, Pumas captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe downplayed their chance.
“The more there is talk of Australia coming here in poor form, the better they’ll play. They are the third-best team in the world,” he said. “It’s going to be a tremendous match. In Perth they were not in good form, but they beat us.”
“It’s very frustrating for us not to get a first victory, but we have to keep growing along these lines and it will come,” Lobbe added.
Experienced backs Felipe Contepomi and Horacio Agulla were recalled to start, with Contepomi to become Argentina’s most capped player in his 87th Test. Already their all-time leading point-scorer, Contepomi told local radio this will also be his last Test. The 36-year-old has appeared in four World Cups, but has never beaten Australia.
The Pumas made a late change when tighthead prop Juan Figallo withdrew because of a herniated disc that required rest for now. Juan Pablo Orlandi is to step up and he was replaced in the reserves by Matias Diaz, who was signed by the Otago Highlanders Super XV side this week.
Meanwhile, the visitors, who have not finished last since 2009, are still trying to find an identity under Ewen McKenzie. The new coach remains committed to his squad and believes the players have yet to produce their best. However, after one win in five Tests, there are questions about his direction and style.
McKenzie was the ready replacement for the unloved Robbie Deans, but Deans beat South Africa home and away in his first year and never lost to Argentina.
“You always get something out of dealing with adversity and I’m confident we will eventually click,” McKenzie said.
He made only one change to the side which lost 28-8 to South Africa last weekend, returning Will Genia as a starter and bumping Nic White to the reserves, with Genia’s experience preferred to White’s better kicking game.
Uncapped New South Wales flyhalf Bernard Foley, a former Sevens captain, also made the reserves.
The Pumas have beaten Australia four times, but not since 1997. The Wallabies have won their last seven meetings.