Inexperienced Australia aim for Argentina double in San Juan

Rugby Union - Autumn International - Scotland v Australia - BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Britain - November 7, 2021 Australia's James O’Connor scores a penalty goal REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/File Photo

Aug 12 (Reuters) - A relatively inexperienced Australia side will aim to open the Rugby Championship with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2015 when they face Argentina in San Juan on Saturday, with much of the focus on returning flyhalf James O’Connor.

The Wallabies have been depleted by injury and absence, with just five of their starting 15 having played more than 30 tests.

Regular flyhalf Quade Cooper ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the 41-26 victory in Mendoza last weekend, team captain Michael Hooper is taking some time away from the game and prop Allan Alaalatoa has returned home following a family bereavement.

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Combined with the loss of centres Hunter Paisami and Samu Kerevi, coach Dave Rennie has had to reach deep into the wider squad to plug gaps.

O’Connor is mercurial on his day but can also flounder, which is why Rennie has opted for a 5-3 split on the bench between forwards and backs to add cover for the flyhalf in the form of two-cap pivot Irae Simone.

But Rennie is backing O’Connor to shine in his first start this year as he looks to find solutions for a position where there is little depth for the Wallabies.

"Obviously, with Quade gone, no Hoops, no Allan, we’re keen to get a bit of experience out there as well," Rennie said.

"He’s an important voice in amongst that backline. He’s prepared really well, he’s really excited to get out there and have a crack at it.

"It’s James’s first start for a long time, so we decided we wanted more insurance in the backs," Rennie added on the inclusion of Simone among the replacements.

Argentina led 19-10 at halftime last weekend and were largely in control but failed to deal with Australia’s increased intensity in the second period, looking particularly vulnerable to the driving maul.

Pumas coach Michael Cheika has made four changes to his side.

Prop Thomas Gallo is in for Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and Gonzalo Bertranou replaces Tomas Cubelli at scrumhalf as he seeks to reprise the winning combination with Santiago Carreras at halfback from last month’s 2-1 test series win over Scotland.

Matias Moroni replaces Matias Orlando at centre and there is a switch on the wings as Emiliano Boffelli moves to the right in place of Santiago Cordero, allowing Juan Imhoff to play on the left.

"We've said before the most important things are the scrum, maul, lineout, ruck so we can be competitive with all the teams," Cheika said.

"We've got to work on the mentality and technique, mix the two things. We're trying to build defence, the maul, everything together."

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Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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