Beleaguered Cheika defiant ahead of crunch match

Michael Cheika (AP)
Michael Cheika (AP)

Salta - Desperate Australia coach Michael Cheika remained defiant ahead of a Rugby Championship final-round clash against Argentina Saturday that could decide his fate.

"I keep getting asked whether I am going to resign and I keep giving the same answer," snapped the 51-year-old who has overseen a disastrous year for the Wallabies.

"Tough situations arise in all sports and then they go away and the tough people stay," was his clear message ahead of the Test in northwestern city Salta.

If Australia fail to win, they will suffer the humiliation of finishing last behind champions New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

Cheika was once the toast of Wallabies' supporters, taking the team to second place behind the All Blacks at the 2015 World Cup in England.

His sometimes unorthodox methods included a ban on headphones close to Tests with the coach justifying the move by saying: "Cyndi Lauper won't win you the game."

But six losses in eight matches this year has seen public and media calls for his head, and a degree of support from Australia rugby boss Raelene Castle.

"We are facing some challenging times, but Michael is doing some work to make sure he has got the best people around him," she said after a home loss to Argentina last month.

There have been reports linking former Australia great George Gregan with a coaching position.

An inability to convert possession into points cost the Wallabies dearly last weekend against South Africa as they fell 23-12 in Port Elizabeth.

"We were let down by execution errors, skill errors, passes slightly behind or pushing the offload.

"I think there are a hell of a lot of positives to take out of the Springboks match," insisted Cheika.

Veteran scrumhalf Will Genia believes Salta can be the turning point and bring some relief for Cheika.

"We are going to get Argentina back," he vowed, referring to the shock 23-19 loss in the Gold Coast last month, the first at home to Argentina for 35 years.

Cheika has made only one personnel change after South Africa with Bernard Foley recalled at flyhalf and Kurtley Beale switching to centre in place of Matt Toomua.

Mario Ledesma used to part of the coaching staff that worked with Cheika - now he is the mastermind of a resurgent Argentina side eyeing a third Championship win this season.

Last year, the Pumas lost all six matches without collecting even one bonus point, and three heavy losses to Wales and Scotland last June led coach Daniel Hourcade to quit.

Ledesma took over and delivered wins at home to South Africa and away to Australia to give the South Americans two Championship victories in a season for the first time.

His major concern ahead of the Australia match is scrumming, with New Zealand severely embarrassing them last weekend.

Tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera was brought back from France for that Test and gets another chance to prove his worth against Australia.

Ledesma has kept faith with his pack and made two backline changes - winger Ramiro Moyano and centre Matias Orlando replace injured Bautista Delguy and Bautista Ezcurra.

"My boys are working hard every day and starting to believe in themselves. Our Championship victories were a reward for all the effort they have put in," said proud Ledesma.

Teams:

Argentina

15 Emiliano Boffelli; 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano; 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou; 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera; 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti; 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Substitutes: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere

Australia 

15 Dane Haylett-Petty; 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete; 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia; 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan; 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda; 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Scott Sio

Substitutes: (one to be omitted): 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Rory Arnold, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Matt Toomua, 24 Tom Banks

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