Australia pursue three in a row against wounded Pumas

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) –


Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has urged his team to stay focused as they eye three wins in a row for the first time since 2017 against a wounded Argentina on Saturday.

Australia head into the Rugby Championship fifth-round clash in Townsville with momentum and confidence after consecutive victories over South Africa, propelling them up to number three in the world.

In contrast, Los Pumas and coach Mario Ledesma are under mounting pressure after four straight defeats, scoring just two tries while conceding 136 points.

Despite this Rennie remains cautious of a team desperate to bounce back, and conscious that Argentina frustrated his side by grinding out two draws last season.

"We know the Argentinians will be desperate because they have had four losses so far and they're a good side," he said Thursday ahead of what will be the first ever Test played in Townsville, in northern Queensland.

"They'll want to express themselves, they throw more passes (than South Africa), they counter when given the opportunity and they are very good at it.

"They're also very good at filling the field, are disciplined around defence and can be hard to break down.

"What we've learned over the past few weeks is we have to hang in the fight for a long time, sometimes it takes 60 or 70 minutes to crack a side," he added.

"We're certainly in no position to sit back and relax and be happy. We're still a long way from the team we reckon we could be."

Rennie has made two changes to his starting side, handing flanker Rob Leota a run-on debut in a backrow marshalled by skipper Michael Hooper and Rob Valetini.

The versatile Reece Hodge got the nod to replace fullback Tom Banks, who is out for up to 10 weeks with a fractured arm.

A fit-again James O'Connor was included on the bench and will see his first action since May, when a groin injury sidelined him after he had made the fly-half role his own.

That position has now been taken by veteran Quade Cooper, who made a remarkable comeback earlier this month after four years in the international wilderness.

- 'Different beast' -

While Argentina managed to bank two draws against the Wallabies last year, they haven't scored more than 13 points in any Rugby Championship game this season and Ledesma admitted Rennie's team was "a different beast" to 2020.

"They've beaten the world champions twice and I thought they really dominated the game (last weekend)," said Ledesma, who has former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika assisting him.

"We're playing a different beast than last year.

"We have had a couple of bad games on the hop," he added. "We're really concentrating on getting better and we're playing against a team that is really confident."

He pointed to Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi as a dangerman on Saturday.

"He brings such a physicality and go-forward that he sets up the platform better than the forwards," he said. "You can see why they're setting every play on him from set-piece or as a dump runner. He's really dominating."

Ledesma is set to name his side on Thursday evening.

Australia (15-1): Reece Hodge; Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Quade Cooper, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (capt), Rob Leota; Matt Philip, Izack Rodda; Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga'a, James Slipper

Replacements: Feleti Kaitu'u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, James O'Connor, Jordan Petaia