Cheika factor at play as Argentina eye Australia upset

Sydney (AFP) –


Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika could come back to haunt his old team on Saturday as he tries to help Argentina pull off their second straight upset after last week's stunning win over New Zealand.

The Pumas are riding high after their 25-15 Tri Nations defeat of the All Blacks last week in Sydney, with a brick-wall defence helping them to their first win over the three-time world champions.

Dave Rennie's Australia are now in their sights in Newcastle, as they hunt for their first back-to-back wins against Tier 1 opposition since defeating Italy and France in June 2016.

Despite not playing since last year's World Cup, Argentina played an astute game in Sydney, holding onto the ball well and when they did kick, forcing uncharacteristic All Blacks errors.

Captain Pablo Matera credited the influence of Cheika, who is with the team as a consultant after a call from coach Mario Ledesma, an old friend who used to work with the Wallabies.

"The first day he said, 'Hey, what are you waiting for?'" Matera said of Cheika.

"'You've got everything. You've got big physical players, young players, a lot of energy. Just go and take it."

Cheika's fingerprints are likely to be all over the match again on Saturday against a Wallabies team he coached until their World Cup quarter-final loss to England last year.

Rennie insisted he wasn't worried about the inside knowledge that might come from his predecessor, who departed acrimoniously after Australia's failed World Cup campaign.

"We haven't spoken about it," Rennie said. "I'm not certain what his role is, I know he's come in as some form of specialist and chipping in where required.

"Certainly, there was a really impressive defensive effort (last week) so if he had anything to do with that, he's done a good job."

Ledesma has named an unchanged run-on side, with Stade Francais playmaker Nicolas Sanchez again shaping as key after scoring all 25 points against the All Blacks, including their lone try and six penalties.

But his record against Australia is not as hot, scoring just one try across 13 previous Tests.

Ledesma cited Australia's set-piece and their offensive threat as areas of concern.

"We just have to be spot-on in our game plan, and that is our kicking game, and to control the tempo," he said.

"We've worked a lot during the week on being fresh after the emotion of last week after not playing that kind of rugby or that level of intensity for a long time."

- Tongan Thor -

Once again the odds are stacked against Argentina.

They have lost 17 of their last 19 against the Wallabies, including 14 of the previous 15 in Australia.

But their confidence is high and they are searching for a fourth win in five Tests, having beaten New Zealand, USA and Tonga, with England their only defeat.

"I'm well aware of how good Argentina were last week and it's a chance for us to show that we are developing and are getting better. A win would put us in a pretty strong position," said Rennie.

Australia need victory to keep alive their hopes of winning the Tri Nations, with one win from two so far.

They have kept the same backline that helped orchestrate their upset of the All Blacks, but made three changes among the forwards.

Scott Sio comes in for injured prop James Slipper while Ned Hanigan will start at blindside flanker after Lachlan Swinton was sent off on his debut.

Elsewhere, hulking prop Taniela Tupou, nicknamed "the Tongan Thor", takes over from Allan Alaalatoa in a bid to help Australia tame an Argentinian pack that more than matched the All Blacks.

"The Pumas really dominated the kicking stats last week, which was surprising. The All Blacks held onto a lot of ball, made errors and got punished," said Rennie.

"So we expect them to kick a lot to us and then try and get a wall in front us. We've got a plan around that."