Grondona named in Pumas squad
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs forward Santiago Grondona has been named on the bench for Argentina ahead of their Rugby Championship Test in Mendoza.
Although the 24-year-old started Argentina's 34-31 victory over Scotland last time out, he is one of six changes that head coach Michael Cheika has made to his starting line-up for the game.
Cheika - up against the side he coached for five years - believes the forward exchanges will prove crucial in the outcome of this encounter but is confident his charges will give a good account of themselves.
“We’re still only one month together as a coaching team and playing group,” he said.
“We’re focusing on ourselves and the combinations we have within the team, communication, game plan, technique on the most important thing in this game: the scrum, maul, ruck. That’s very important for our team.”
Los Pumas - who also include former Chief, Santiago Cordero, in their starting line-up - have been perennial underachievers in the Rugby Championship and Cheika said he hopes to make them a more competitive side in 2022.
“The objective is very clear for us, it is putting the team in a situation where they can be competitive with all the big teams: top ranked teams, middle ranked teams and teams that are coming up because that’s what we will meet in the World Cup,” he revealed.
Argentina finished as wooden spoonists in last year’s tournament with zero points amassed from their six matches played with narrowest losing margin being a 15-point deficit in their 32-17 defeat to the Wallabies on the Gold Coast.
But they have already shown improvement under Cheika – as illustrated by the series victory over Scotland – and although they haven’t beaten Australia since 2018, Wallabies centre Len Ikitau has already seen a difference in Los Pumas’ play since the former Wallabies coach took charge of the South American side.
“Obviously last year we played them, we won both games but we know they are a different type of team (now),” he added. “We’ve watched some footage of them, the way they counter, they don’t really kick as much as they used to compared to recent years. We know they’re going to be dangerous from all over the park. For us it’s about fronting up in defence and staying switched on.”
Australia, meanwhile, include another former Chief, Nic White, in their starting line-up. He will start at scrum-half forming an experienced half-back pairing alongside the returning Quade Cooper.
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (capt), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayvo Vivas, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni
Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (capt), 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Reece Hodge