GOLD COAST — Australia take on Argentina tomorrow with Nathan Sharpe at the helm amid a captaincy crisis as they seek to build on their first win in the Rugby Championship.
After two defeats to world champions New Zealand to open their campaign, the Wallabies came from behind to beat the Springboks last week, giving besieged coach Robbie Deans much-needed breathing space.
But the 26-19 win in Perth came at a cost, with skipper Will Genia badly injuring his knee. First-choice captain James Horwill is also sidelined, along with his successor, David Pocock.
The Wallabies start as favourites for the Gold Coast clash but will be wary of a Pumas outfit that pushed the All Blacks hard for 60 minutes last weekend before eventually fading to lose 21-5.
Australia insist they will not underestimate the Argentinians, who also held the Springboks to a 16-16 draw in Mendoza last month in the inaugural championship.
Sharpe, 34, who originally announced he was going to retire earlier this year, is the only Wallaby to have faced the Pumas and flyhalf Quade Cooper conceded that the Australians had little knowledge of the South Americans.
"There’s been a lot of tape-watching this week for a lot of the boys," Cooper said. "We don’t know much about them and no one in the team, except for Sharpey, has had the opportunity to play against them. Their unpredictability is a big strength … also their forward pack. They’re definitely a team we’re not taking lightly at all. They’re going to throw a lot at us."
The enigmatic Cooper will be faced with extra responsibility following the season-ending knee injury to scrumhalf Genia.
Melbourne’s Nick Phipps comes into the side at scrumhalf in one of three changes to the Wallabies team after the match against the Springboks.
Waratahs lock Kane Douglas will make his Test debut in place of injured Sitaleki Timani, while inside centre Pat McCabe returns from injury, with Berrick Barnes dropping to fullback and Kurtley Beale to the bench.
Sharpe, who had intended to retire at the end of the Super 15 season before an injury to Horwill led to his call-up, takes over from Genia as captain. He has captained Australia twice before.
Argentina’s Leicester-based front-rower Marcos Ayerza, who is in the Pumas squad but will not be playing on Saturday, said Genia’s injury would be a huge loss for the Wallabies.
"When you lose a key player like a No9 or 10, a captain, it makes a large difference and we hope to use that to our advantage," Ayerza said.
"It’s a huge task for us to compete with Australia. We are desperate to get our first win and we know that if we are not at 110% that will not happen."
Pumas coach Santiago Phelan has made two back-line changes to the team that lost to the All Blacks, dropping scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo and fullback Martin Rodriguez. Martin Landajo comes in for Vergallo, while the exciting Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino takes over at fullback.
Berrick Barnes, Dom Shipperley, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Nick Phipps; Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Stephen Moore/Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Anthony Faingaa.
Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla, Juan Martin Hernandez, Martin Landajo; Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (capt), Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Julio Faras Cabello, Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu, Rodrigo Roncero. Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Leonardo Senatore, Tomas Leonardi, Nicolas Vergallo, Martin Rodriguez, Juan Imhoff.