Argentina's first year in the expanded Rugby Championship is making an impression on Tatafu Polota-Nau. The Australia hooker said that the big, aggressive South American forwards pose even bigger problems for opposing teams at the scrum and breakdown and rated them as good as the world champion All Blacks and South Africa.
"It's on par, but if anything better," the 37-Test veteran said ahead of Australia's match against Argentina at Gold Coast today, the first Test to be played in the tourist area south of Brisbane. "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 creating such a mess at the breakdown. Technically, if we're not sound, we'll get punished."
Argentina troubled first-placed New Zealand in their match last weekend in Wellington, trailing by just a point at half-time before losing 21-5, and played to a 16-16 draw at home against South Africa. The Pumas will be looking for their first win of the competition today, while the Wallabies secured their first win last weekend over South Africa after losing twice to the All Blacks.
The Argentina prop Marcos Ayerza says his team sees scrum dominance as a 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."
Australia go into the match without stand-in captain and scrum-half Will Genia, who underwent knee surgery this week and is one of four major injuries to have hit the team this season. James Horwill and David Pocock preceded Genia with injuries as captain, while back-line player James O'Connor is also out.
With eight Tests still to play in 2012, O'Connor could return on 20 October against New Zealand, but the three captains will not be back in action until next year.
Nathan Sharpe will become the fourth captain for Australia this year when he takes over from Genia, while Nick Phipps has slotted into the half-back role. Berrick Barnes shifts from centre to full-back to replace Kurtley Beale, who is relegated to the bench. Pat McCabe returns from injury and will start at inside-centre. In the second row, Sharpe will partner Kane Douglas, who replaces the injured Sitaleki Timani and will become the 10th Wallabies debutant in eight Tests.
Argentina make two changes to their line-up, at half-back and full-back. Martin Landajo has been named at scrum-half ahead of Nicolas Vergallo while Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino replaces Martin Rodriguez. France-based lock and vice-captain Patricio Albacete has been named to play his 50th Test, earning a tribute from fellow forward Ayerza.
"He's been the best forward player in our history," Ayerza said. "We will see this in five years' time. He's been our talisman. He's an inspiration for us; he leads by example and he shows the way. It will be a huge motivation to play in his 50th Test."
Sharpe said Albacete epitomised the Pumas' team ethic. "They don't generally have a consistent standout, they just perform well and put in for each other and that's what makes them a dangerous team," Sharpe said. "The guys are aware it's going to be a very physical encounter but with the unorthodox side of things you just have to worry about what you're doing.
"If we can look after that, and to a certain extent dismiss what different tactics they're employing, it helps us be precise in what we're doing and will go a long way to deciding the result of the match."
The Pumas' only win over the Wallabies in Australia was on their first visit, when fly-half great Hugo Porta inspired them to an upset 18-3 win at Brisbane's Ballymore in 1983.