World Cup Battle Stations

Make no mistake. The Wallabies are now in World Cup mode. The countdown is on in earnest. Australia faces England and Wales in the ‘pool of death’ starting next September. Accordingly there is no room for slipups starting with Argentina this weekend.

The Wallabies stood defiantly last weekend in Cape Town. For seventy minutes they went toe to toe with the most physical rugby team on the planet only to lose their way when it counted.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was one step ahead. His future focus was unmistakable. The injection of four World Cup winners off his bench was mindblowing. The bewildered visitors were literally squashed in that devastating final ten minutes.

We can safely presume that Meyer’s ‘awesome extras’, Bismarck Du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger will be in the front line next September. All will be involved in tomorrow night’s World Cup dress rehearsal against the All Blacks at Ellis Park.

In twelve months’ time Australia faces a minefield of four test matches in seventeen days finishing with back to back clashes against England and Wales at Twickenham.

That is why each step from here must be a step forward. Hard lessons need to be heeded. Players are acutely aware that achieving the right balance between running and smart kicking has to improve dramatically. Ideally the two components should marry instinctively.

The simplicity and accuracy of the All Blacks’ execution remains the benchmark. Their efficiency in controlling match tempo and clinically finishing off try-scoring opportunities highlight Australia’s brief in Mendoza.

Coach Ewen McKenzie has rightly lamented the number of tries left out on the pitch in recent Rugby Championship matches. In-form halves Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley have to nail the right decisions in attack to utilize the best space.

On that score, the shadows of proven combination Will Genia and Quade Cooper will lengthen as they return to full fitness. But additionally all players also have to shed those little disciplinary brain snaps that are rarely missed by the TMO.

The Pumas remain winless after three years in the Rugby Championship and have targeted this clash with the Wallabies as their breakthrough game. New coach Daniel Hourcade has implemented a more expansive gameplan.

Return of nimble speedsters Horacio Agulla at outside centre and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino on the wing equates to line-breaking firepower out wide with a distinct Sevens’ influence. Wallaby communication will need to be razor sharp.

The absence of world class backrowers Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Jean Manuel Leguizamon and Pablo Matera is a welcome luxury for the Wallaby cause. But replacements showed their mettle in La Plata and it took some classy finishing by the Kiwis to subdue Los Pumas.

Lost team luggage and the Kurtley Beale incident on the four flight journey to Argentina have been unwanted distractions this week. But such scenarios tend to enhance bonding and will not be offered as excuses.

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The Wallabies can grab positives from Cape Town but also must get the detail right for the full eighty minutes after a sub standard bench performance . From a World Cup perspective those shortcomings must be embedded at the forefront of squad resolve.

Scott Fardy’s return to top form last week was inspirational while props James Slipper and Sekope Kepu are thankfully getting overdue recognition for their scrummaging and powerful general play. Giant lock Sam Carter gains with each outing.

Special mention should be made of supposed sixth ranked hooker Saia Faingaa. His wholehearted performance featuring his trademark copybook low tackling, was a standout as was his set piece duty.

Welsh Referee Nigel Owens, who otherwise had an excellent game, did get one crucial decision wrong when he penalized Sai for joining that collision on the 22nd phase in the 54th minute with Australia hard on attack and leading 10-8. Cruelly there was no ruck or maul and no tackle. Them’s the breaks!

Rampaging Tevita Kuridrani is a major obstacle for the Pumas. He will appreciate not having classy Marcelo Bosch around his ankles for the first part of the game. Joe Tomane, who caused problems in Rosario last year, shapes as a big improver.

Israel Folau’s hattrick in the corresponding game last year will be playing on Argentina’s mind but as mentioned they also have attacking plans of their own.

Aussie fans demanded the Wallabies show their true colours last week in Cape Town. This week is no different.

My verdict on Cape Town: The Wallabies performed admirably for seventy minutes but Pat Lambie’s drop goal after 31 phases of heroic defence proved the dam buster.

Nevertheless the Wallabies did show us who they are. We can see what they are trying to do - clearly it is a work in progress! And we know where they are going. With key personnel to return, the World Cup campaign appears to be on track.

Gordon Bray is TEN’S chief rugby caller and will be joined by Matt Burke, Stirling Mortlock and Scott Mackinnon for the live telecast from Mendoza Sunday morning at 9am (AET).