Rugby: Australia forwards must up game against Pumas to avoid going down under

Ausralia's Ben McCalman (left) and Scott Fardy (right) tackle Scotland's WP Nel during their Rugby World Cup quarter-final match at Twickenham in London on Oct 18, 2015.
Ausralia's Ben McCalman (left) and Scott Fardy (right) tackle Scotland's WP Nel during their Rugby World Cup quarter-final match at Twickenham in London on Oct 18, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

It was a great atmosphere at Twickenham Stadium last weekend. It was all abuzz for a great series of games, and despite England's early exit, the banter was still a memorable one.

The crowd on Sunday all sounded very English, but by the end of the game, they were in Union behind the Scots. Scotland were the underdogs, but Sunday was the day of the underdog as Argentina had just created history by defeating Ireland and the hopes of the United Kingdom were on the Scots' shoulders.

Unfortunately, we know that it was not the fairy tale ending despite a great game by the Scots, who showed guile, determination and most of all, resilience to win the game. Many will debate if the win was stolen from them.

Few can dispute that Australia played a terrible game. The Scots, however, should have put them away. My old coach at Sydney University always preached of playing well enough to put the game beyond the hands of anyone - including the referee.

Australia coach Michael Cheika and his playmaker Bernard Foley must have been counting their lucky stars after their great escape. Referee Craig Jourbert had once again given them both the opportunity to get out of jail.

Jourbert had officiated the 2014 Super Rugby Final, where both Cheika and Foley were on the side of the NSW Waratahs against the Canterbury Crusaders. That last-minute penalty won the Waratahs their only Super title to date.

On Saturday, the referee's call earned the Australians a lucky escape and brought heartbreak upon the Scots.

Australia can ill-afford to have the same off-game against Argentina in the semi-finals this Sunday (Oct 25, 11.45pm, FOX Sports 2). Matt Giteau played his 100 game for the Wallabies last Sunday, and he won the man of the match. He was solid in the basics, but really lacked the leadership that was needed.

The Wallabies missed Israel Folau and David Pocock last weekend and it is hoped that their return would steady the ship. The Wallabies made silly errors which led to both Scotland tries, and their much-heralded defence was ripped to shreds.

Coach Cheika sounded positive and very confident at a press conference here in London on Wednesday, and he certainly has a poker face. The Wallabies have lost to the Argentinian Pumas once before, but this will not be another forgone conclusion.

The key will be the back row of Fardy, Pocock and Hopper in disrupting the Argentina attack. Fardy has been quietly doing his work at this Rugby World Cup, but he clearly needs the other two working together to make things happen.

When asked how he felt about being the "man in the shadows" on Wednesday, Fardy replied: "I like being in the shadows and not being as noticed as much as those two, it's quite enjoyable."

This RWC has seen its fair share of entertaining upsets, and the Pumas defeat of Ireland in the quarter-finals showed that Argentina can play both the round ball and the odd-shaped one with equal flair and skill. Their tries against the seasoned Irish drove the crowd in Wales to their feet, and their cheers were heard all the way here in London.

Argentina's Juan Imhoff was asked how he felt about his winning try against Ireland and he responded that he was more concerned about injury from the dive - "When I dived, the emotions overtook me and I couldn't control them, but I must control them in future to avoid any risk."

Argentina is the blueprint that most smaller-tier rugby countries should follow. They have been in the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship for three years now, and while they have an history with the game for a long time, their entry into regular professional rugby has seen their players improve.

For the nation's 500,000 registered players, it offers a pathway to play in Europe, just like their footballing cousins. With their entry into Super Rugby next year, the Pumas will only get better.

Their scrummaging is world-famous, and it showed on Sunday, but it was their counter attacks and free-flowing rugby that caused all sorts of problems for the Irish. They love to run the ball, and are always looking to exploit the turnover.

The release from the base of the contact area to the backs in attack is one of the quickest in the competition, which breaks the lines on numerous occasions. This will certainly test Australia on Sunday.

Before that clash though, there is the other semi-final, where South Africa face old foes New Zealand (Oct 24, 11.45pm, FOX Sports 2). After the All Blacks' demolition of France last week, the Kiwis have finally shown up to play rugby as only they can.

Mind games or not, even South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said of his next opponents: "I must say this - and I really mean it, it's not just talk - but this is probably the best team that's ever played the game."

It's going to be yet another exciting weekend of RWC rugby, which is only fitting. Many bemoan the fact that the southern hemisphere nations continue to dominate, but it is still going to be exciting rugby.

I'm rooting for Australia vs New Zealand in the final, but I have been proven wrong in the past.

stsports@sph.com.sg

Note: Jonathan Leow, 35, was a Singapore national rugby player and previously coached the national Under-19 team. He also played for the University of Sydney and in the lower divisions in New Zealand. He is currently the vice-president of the Singapore Rugby Union and the organising committee chairman of the Singapore Cricket Club International Rugby Sevens.