Friendships set aside for Argentina-Australia rugby match
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — If Saturday’s Rugby Championship match between Australia and Argentina is a family reunion, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika isn’t planning to be too hospitable.
Argentina head coach Mario Ledesma was a former forwards coach with the Wallabies, and both Cheika and assistant coach Stephen Larkham consider the rookie Pumas coach a good friend.
It’s the first time that Ledesma, who was named to the post in early August, will go head-to-head against his former colleagues. There’s plenty on the line — the Pumas haven’t won in Australia in 35 years.
Argentina split a home-and-away series against South Africa to start its campaign before a 46-24 loss to the All Blacks last weekend. The Wallabies beat South Africa 23-18 last Saturday for their first win of the tournament.
“He’s (Ledesma) done an excellent job. I’m biased, he’s like family to me, but it won’t make a difference on Saturday,” Cheika said.
The Wallabies are favorites, but after back-to-back Bledisloe Cup losses to New Zealand to begin the Rugby Championship, Cheika isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“We’ve copped a fair bit of flak recently so after last weekend we get a lot of people telling you ‘it’s all good, all good’,” he said. “It ain’t all good until you’re consistent every single day.”
Ledesma made three changes for the match, tweaking his forward pack and promoting a new halfback. One of the changes announced Thursday was forced, with flanker Tomas Lezana ruled out due to a torn hamstring and replaced at No. 6 by Pablo Matera.
Santiago Medrano will also start at prop with Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro moving from tighthead to loosehead. Gonzalo Bertranou will wear the No. 9 jersey, bumping Martin Landajo to the bench and former ACT Brumbies halfback Tomas Cubelli out of the squad.
As expected, flanker David Pocock and Israel Folau were named to make their return to the Australia starting lineup. Pocock had a neck injury and Folau trained strongly after sustaining an ankle injury in the opening Bledisloe Cup match.
On Friday, the Wallabies said Pocock would captain the side after regular skipper Michael Hooper’s late withdrawal with a hamstring injury. Hooper was pulled from the side ahead of Friday’s captain’s run.
Peter Samu will move from the bench to start alongside Pocock, while Ned Hanigan has been added to the reserves.
Folau has been named on the right wing with Dane Haylett-Petty to retain the No. 15 jersey after two strong performances at fullback.
Prop Sekope Kepu is set to earn his 97th test cap on Saturday with the veteran named among the reserves.
Australia: Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, David Pocock (captain), Peter Samu, Lukhan Tui, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Reserves: Folau Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Jack Maddocks.
Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Matias Moroni, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Santiago Medrano, Agustin Creevy (captain), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Reserves: Julian Montoya, Santiago Garcia Botta, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Matias Alemanno, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Martin Landajo, Bautista Ezcurra, Juan Cruz Mallia.