New-look Pumas aiming to match Wallabies’ flair
AUSTRALIA may have escaped by the skin of their teeth against Scotland to reach the World Cup semi-finals, but the victory could be an excellent omen.
The 35-34 win, courtesy of a controversial penalty paid by referee Craig Joubert, was the Wallabies' sixth in-a-row this season. That equals their best in a single season since the last time they made a World Cup final - back in 2003.
All they need to do to achieve that end this time around is beat Argentina in Monday morning's semi-final at Twickenham.
That might sound a lot easier than it will be in reality.
Long regarded as great scrummagers but without the expansive game plan to beat the top nations, the Pumas have evolved their game in the past four years and fully deserve their No.4 world ranking.
They are still excellent at the scrum and breakdown, with loose-head prop Marcos Ayerza one of the pillars.
He said last weekend's 40-23 win against Six Nations champions Ireland showed the players had been able to adapt to the new game plan.
"Traditionally, we have played a hard, strong, committed and confrontational style, but it is true that we are now capable of playing more expansively and with great skill," Ayerza said. "We are trying to find equilibrium, because I think a combination of the two will show us at our best."
Asked whether Argentina would adopt the same strategy against Australia, which also likes to get on the front foot, Ayerza said, "We're not scared to play with width.
"If we want to play to our strengths, we have to use our quick backs and get everyone involved in a dynamic, open style of rugby.
"We trust ourselves to do that now, to be competitive even against sides like Australia and the All Blacks. We have a lot of improving still to do, but this is definitely the start of something for us."
Ironically, the man who has been given much of the credit for Australia's improved scrummaging is former Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma, who left a coaching job in French rugby to help Wallabies coach Michael Cheika in his biggest area of concern.
Ayerza acknowledged the transformation had been significant, with players like Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Scott
Fardy using the set piece as a launching pad for Cheika's own expansive game plan.
"The Wallabies have had a big change of mindset at the scrum," he said.
"Instead of the set piece being simply a platform to put the ball in play, Mario has made it a platform of psychological domination from which to attack. You could see that in the way they scrummaged against England."
- with INM