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The Wallabies go into the fourth game of the Rugby Championship still searching for their first win, despite commendable performances in their last two outings against New Zealand and South Africa.
The match against the Pumas in Canberra is about as must-win as an all-but dead-rubber match two years out from a World Cup can be. If Michael Cheika’s men can’t get the job done against the Argies, with trips to South Africa and Argentina to follow, there is a real possibility that they could go through the tournament without a win.
The breakdown was a real area of concern for the Wallabies against the Springboks in Perth, often under-committing to the breakdown against a team who were desperate to compete. The Wallabies mirrored the Waratahs at times, with isolated ball runners going into contact with supporting teammate s arriving far too late.
There is a lot of talk in rugby coaching circles of ‘winning the space’ over the top of a ball on the ground. The best way to win that contest over the ball is to effectively end it before it begins, but on Saturday the Wallabies support players were often so late to the breakdown that not only had the contest already begun, on several occasions it had already been lost.
Ned Hannigan has again been named at blindside breakaway despite another average performance in Perth. Hannigan showed in the June Tests that he has a great engine and an obvious willingness to work hard, but up against the physical monsters that South Africa and New Zealand have at their disposal his impact at the breakdown during the Rugby Championship has been almost non-existent.
The Wallabies could really use a Scott Fardy-type player to play that role, if only they had one somewhere.
In the front row, the Wallabies appear to finally be moving on from Stephen Moore with Jordan Uelese retaining his bench spot. Cheika has been tracking Uelese for some time, stating back in June that the youngster would be brought into the Wallabies setup once he’d returned from the under-20s World Championship.
If Tatafu Polota-Nau can make the step up from impact bench player to starter – something he has struggled to do previously, that could spell the end of Moore’s Test career. Moore missed last weekend’s match to be at the birth of his third child, but unless someone gets hurt, he may well be on nappy duties for the rest of the Rugby Championship.
In the backline, Marika Koroibete won this week’s ‘get a cap on the wing for the Wallabies’ raffle and will sit on the bench.
Koroibete has been around the Wallabies since the spring tour last year but has been forced to watch Sefa Niavalu, Eto Nabuli, Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty, Henry Speight and Curtis Rona all play on the wing ahead of him over the past three months.
Koroibete might have played last weekend had the game not been in Perth where Cheika went with Rona in an attempt to shoe-horn as many Force players into the side as possible to appease the locals.
Kurtley Beale will again be the go-to man for Australia in attack. Beale has looked a class above his teammates since coming back into the side, and they will need him to provide the spark in attack to ensure that the Wallabies are doing maximum damage on the scoreboard when they are on top.
The All Blacks found it tough to put away the Argies last weekend, and the Wallabies will not want to get sucked into another arm wrestle against a team they should really be accounting for on home soil.