The Big Rugby Championship Question: Momentum and morale

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Last weekend showed that the Wallabies can indeed win games of rugby and the Pumas can indeed challenge the All Blacks, albeit for a period not quite equalling eighty minutes.

    This weekend is the one where the two teams can mark themselves off against each other.

    For the Wallabies, a win would confirm that last weekend wasn’t a dream, and things really aren’t too bad as long you’re not playing the best team in the world every weekend. For Argentina, a win would confirm common thoughts that they’re now capable of winning away from home.

    Therefore, it seems right this week to focus on the two teams fighting it out for second in The Rugby Championship.

    The Big Question: What is our predicted effect of last weekend’s matches likely to have on the momentum and morale of Australia and Argentina? (from Digger – who borrowed Roarer Chinmay Hejmadi’s question from the weekend)

    Nobes: “New rule: Games may only last 50 minutes until Los Pumas get fit enough so they can play at 200km/h for 80 minutes and thus have a chance to win a game over the men in black.

    “The past game will definitely have an impact on the team morale: they played their heart out and lost by 30 points, so it is possible that they might feel not only slightly discouraged but also very tired.

    “There is extra burden on the team caused by injuries. It is very difficult to replace anybody because of the travel distance. Such are the cases of Juan Martin Hernandez and lock Guido Petti. Pumas have already lost Tomas Lavanini in Salta in that position.

    “Now, they must choose between Under-20s Marcos Kremer or switch flanker Ortega Desio to lock, but neither of these possibilities seem to be a rewarding solution when you have a massive job against the Wallabies in Perth.

    “Had the men in gold lost it would have been a different story, but instead they won and they may feel that they are on the way to a healthy recovery.

    “The Wallabies will make the necessary adjustments to win the game, after watching what Los Pumas have done against the All Blacks. Plus, the element of surprise that they showed against the men in black is no longer there.”

    Harry: “What a difference a week (and a win) makes for Michael and Michael.

    “The Wallabies coach did not attack referees, World Rugby, or any other outside party. He was sober and CEO-like, talking about ‘issues to iron out’ before playing the attack-minded Pumas. He was sounding like Shag Hansen after a win, using words like ‘polish’ and ‘tidy up’ and ‘improved, but not top level’.

    “He will have enjoyed some of the more intricate ‘swinging gate’ backline moves the Wallabies ran, but notes his side ‘didn’t shift the ball into space and take it’ enough, and ‘there was a little bit of indecision’. Where was this coach during the first five Tests of 2016?

    “Michael the flanker talked about how much more fun it is to be sore on Monday without ‘feeling sorry for yourself’. I think the Wallabies will overreact to the win a bit, maybe even introducing more debutantes, and then find the Pumas a real handful at the coalface, with the offload game putting real pressure on David Pocock and Will Genia to coordinate.

    “But still, I think the Wallabies are a confidence team with a confidence coach, and this, along with the re-blossoming of the Genia-Quade Cooper axis, should see the number three team see off the exhausted Pumas.

    “Daniel Hourcade looked absolutely gutted at the end of the 22-57 wallop in Hamilton. His players had just played near their absolute red-line best for 50:00, only to see a scoreboard with a 50 on the other side.

    “Intensity, a direct approach, hard defence, and pinpoint kicking; the recipe to trouble the All Blacks. But not enough horses. If you play a galloping rugby against the big black stampede, you better have plenty of stallions watered with buckets of oats. I think the first half in Hamilton was the apex of Puma fortunes.”

    Digger: Absolutely I think the past weekend’s results will have an effect.

    “For Argentina, my question mark has always been around consistency of performance. Previous seasons have suggested much promise only to see it fall away – often against the Wallabies, coincidently – in previous seasons of the Rugby Championship and in last year’s semi in the World Cup; a match which suggested plenty from the Pumas but were unable to deliver.

    “Have they perhaps turned the corner? Maybe, certainly if they produce the same quality of match play against New Zealand for a longer period then absolutely but I wonder how much time and energy went into the All Black match only to end up with a disappointing result. It’s a mental battle for the Pumas and I am unconvinced they can overcome this obstacle.

    “Debate still surrounds exactly the quality of the Wallaby performance over South Africa for a variety reasons however there is no doubt that they improved across several areas and will look to continue with incremental gains against Argentina. The win was a much needed boost to the confidence and will help the squad enjoy their Rugby again.

    “With this match being the last in Australia for this season I imagine the motivation will be high and they have also had the benefit of seeing what Argentina can produce and will, presumably, prepare accordingly.

    “They certainly cannot afford to relax too much as Argentina do have the ability to get on the outside with quick hands and by keeping the ball alive. It will be interesting to see if the Wallaby defence has improved sufficiently to counter this threat, as South Africa were unable to provide an accurate gauge.”

    Brett: I think both performances last week will give the respective sides plenty of confidence, and should even provide a decent amount of momentum.

    I expect that Argentina will have the confidence to try and grind the Wallabies down with a forwards battle, and if they can turn it into a scrummaging battle, even better. The more they can draw the Wallabies in, the better their chances of extending the contest further. And if it becomes a grind, then it can become a points-fest; the Pumas will know the Wallabies are a side who will give away stupid penalties.

    The Wallabies will know that they can’t start the game with their hands in their pockets behind an attacking ruck like they did last week, otherwise they’ll be inviting the Pumas to out-muscle them at the breakdown all night. And they should use the confidence and momentum they will have gained from their attack, because even for the mistake here and there, they did create a lot of opportunities to score tries.

    Morale-wise, I’d think both teams will come into this game felling pretty damn good about themselves which in turn should drive them to really want to play for each other on Saturday night. It all points to a really entertaining game, actually.

    Tips

    Week 3: Brett, Digger, and Nobes 2; Harry, and The Crowd 1

    Nobes: “In my opinion the Wallabies have a 60 per cent chance of winning – and because my heart is not for sale – I give 40 per cent chance for the Pumas. The last weekend victory over the Boks increases the chances of the men in gold.

    “The Boks will play not to lose by a big margin – especially after seeing what the Pumas went through. They will play with that in mind and they will not take many risks.”

    Brett: I have a real concern for the ‘Boks in Christchurch. A huge concern. They’ll know they don’t have the game to challenge New Zealand, but I think playing not to lose would only see them thumped even further. So they might as well go out there and play with freedom. And pray a lot.

    The Wallabies should be too strong for Argentina, otherwise my fears will be for The Roar’s servers. There was a lot to like about last week’s win in Brisbane but it was far from perfect, whereas the Pumas had to play the game of their lives just to be competitive for 50 minutes. The contest will last longer in Perth, but the Wallabies – for God’s sake – should be too good.

    Diggercane: “It is said that South Africa always raise to the challenge of playing the All Blacks and no doubt New Zealand will be cautious against their old foe. However, there has been little to suggest that this current Springbok side will indeed trouble this All Black side much at all.

    “It would be a remarkable turnaround if South Africa can be competitive for long periods of the match, let alone 80 minutes. I cannot see anything but a comfortable All Black victory.

    “I feel the Wallabies will get home over the Pumas this weekend, most of my reasoning already laid out with the Big Question. When you add in a little less recent travel and a relatively healthier squad, I am picking the Wallabies to finish their domestic season on a high note.”

    Harry: “Both home teams comfortably this week.

    “Elton Jantjies isn’t going to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, ever. The Rugby Championship is turning into a home-team competition, and for the All Blacks, everywhere is home.”

    The Summary

    The Crowd has spoken…
    Another record response for the Week 4 TRC games, with well over 560 responses received; thanks once again to everyone who had their say. Final result were:

    93.2% New Zealand
    51.2% Australia

    The Wallabies tip is the closest for The Rugby Championship panel yet. From more than 560 responses, the Wallabies and Pumas were split by just 14 votes!

    Should be a ripper, enjoy your weekend of rugby.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.