Powerhouse hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has warned the Wallabies forwards face their toughest assignment in the Rugby Championship on Saturday night by rating Argentina’s pack the best in the competition.
The Pumas may be ranked eighth in the world but Polota-Nau believes their forward play is without peer in the southern hemisphere.
The tournament newcomers have certainly made an instant splash in the four-nation competition by unsettling both New Zealand and South Africa in the opening three rounds.
Polota-Nau spelt out the danger the big, aggressive Argentine forwards pose at scrum time and at the breakdown by remarking their play was superior to the world champion All Blacks and Springboks.
“It’s on par, but if anything better,” the 37-Test rake said on Thursday.
The Pumas’ bruising defence and their ability to turnover possession by throwing numbers into the rucks and mauls were a highlight in their 16-all draw against the Boks before scaring the All Blacks at 9-5 down 65 minutes into last weekend’s Wellington Test.
“They probably have the stats for the highest turnovers and it’s because of all their forwards working so well in the defensive area and jackling and creating such a mess at the breakdown,” Polota-Nau said.
“Technically if we’re not sound we’ll get punished.
“So as a contest it’s on par or if not better because I think from (numbers) one to eight they can all be jacklers.”
Winger Digby Ioane also underlined the challenge at the tackle area for the Wallabies at Gold Coast’s Skilled Park: “They’re ruthless at the breakdown so that’s our main focus.”
Australia’s scrum performed solidly in their past two outings but the selection of 122kg lock Kane Douglas, over the lighter Rob Simmons, to replace the injured Sitaleki Timani has shown they’re also wary about being outmuscled by the Pumas in the set-piece.
In scrummaging work, the Wallabies have prepared for all matter of surprises from a team renowned for their hostility and power up front.
“That’s the beauty of the Argies, they’re quite the unorthodox team so we actually don’t know what to expect,” Polota-Nau said.
“We’re prepping by all means necessary to make sure that any scenario we can (1) stop but (2) stick to our plan – of getting the ball in and out and let the backs do the rest.”
Pumas prop Marcos Ayerza stressed the tourists see scrum dominance as a huge mental and physical boost.
“It’s historically been a main objective for any Argentinian team, to have a solid scrum and build from that psychological domination, and we’re trying to bring that back,” he said.
“From that dominance, even if it might be an inch, you start building your confidence with every part of the game.”