Pointless Pumas need win over Wallabies to avoid unwanted record
Mendoza (Argentina) (AFP)
Pointless Argentina need a Rugby Championship win over Australia in Mendoza on Saturday to avoid the 2017 campaign being the worst since they joined the competition five years ago.
After five consecutive losses to South Africa, New Zealand and away to Australia, Los Pumas are doomed to finish bottom of the table a fifth time.
But during two previous winless seasons, Argentina secured losing bonus points that have eluded them this year.
A losing bonus point is awarded in the southern hemisphere championship to a team that is beaten by less than eight points.
"It is true that we are battling to achieve victories," conceded veteran number eight Juan Manuel Leguizamon after a 36-10 defeat by New Zealand in Buenos Aires last weekend.
"However, no other group of rugby players in the world are playing Super Rugby for six months followed almost immediately by Tests.
"It is a very difficult situation, but offers us the opportunity to face some of the best teams in the world virtually every weekend."
Argentine national team players compete in Super Rugby as the Jaguares then morph into Pumas come the Test windows.
Former star South Africa lock Victor Matfield told the Argentine media recently that a reason why the Pumas have been struggling is that their stars get no rest.
He signalled out hooker Agustin Creevy, who starts every Jaguares and Pumas match because he skippers both sides.
This can also lead to understudies becoming frustrated with Jaguares and Pumas reserve hooker Julian Montoya reportedly linked to English Premiership club Gloucester.
In Mendoza, Creevy leads a team showing four changes to that which started against the All Blacks and were run ragged during the opening half before improving dramatically.
In the lone change made by coach Daniel Hourcade among the backs, Martin Landajo replaces injured Tomas Cubelli at scrum-half.
Cubelli can offer unique insight into Australian rugby having being part of the Canberra-based ACT Brumbies Super Rugby outfit before joining the Jaguares.
Locks Marcos Kremer and Matias Alemanno take over from Guido Petti and the ill-disciplined Tomas Lavanini, whose latest transgression was a yellow card against the All Blacks.
In a back-row shuffle, flanker Tomas Lezana switches to number eight in place of Leguizamon with Javier Ortega Desio drafted in.
Only Montoya, prop Santiago Garcia Botta and winger/full-back Santiago Cordero survive from the bench chosen for the New Zealand Test.
Australia assistant coach and former star Stephen Larkham is wary of Los Pumas, believing them to be a better team that a record of one victory in eight Tests this year suggests.
Before the Rugby Championship, Argentina lost twice to a virtual England reserve side because of British and Irish Lions call-ups and beat second-tier rugby nation Georgia.
"Coming up against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia -- three of the top five teams in the world -- on a continuous basis is really tough," said Larkham.
"Their world ranking (10th) probably does not do justice to how good they are. They have slid down the ladder because they play such strong opposition.
"I have noticed a lot of improvement from the Jaguares in Super Rugby and much of that has been transferred into the national team."
Australia have retained the side that began a 27-27 draw in South Africa -- the first time the same run-on team has been chosen for successive Tests since Michael Cheika became coach in 2014.
© 2017 AFP