Preview: Argentina v Australia

Eight years after their first World Cup semi-final Argentina return to the last four but this time with a team capable of going all the way.

Facing Australia at Twickenham on Sunday, the Pumas have shown enough over the last month to make this clash almost impossible to pick.

When they surprised everyone to make the last four in 2007, Argentina had a powerful pack and a conservative game plan that proved too much for their northern hemisphere opposition.

Despite having playmakers like Juan Martin Hernandez and Felipe Contepomi, the game was mainly based around a good kick chase and winning the forward battle.

Since joining the Rugby Championship they've improved their all-court game, and now combine a still dominant pack with genuine threats throughout the backline.

The scariest part about the side is just how young it is. South Africa and New Zealand's young lock pairings have got most of the attention during this tournament, but in 22-year-old Tomas Lavanini and 20-year-old Guido Petti, Argentina could have a second-row partnership that will dominate for a decade.

Add in the likes of Pablo Matera and Facundo Isa in the back-row, and a host of young flyers in the backline, and Argentina are set to be even better in four years' time, particularly with a Super Rugby franchise from next year.

That's not to say they can't make the final this time, against an Australian side which has struggled to hit its straps in their last two games. This would mark a new step for them, as they try to beat one of the southern hemisphere's big three at the World Cup for the very first time.

Deprived of David Pocock against Scotland, having lost Michael Hooper against Wales, Australia haven't been quite as dominant in the back-row, while the injury problems of Israel Folau have also been an issue.

Their revitalised scrum was also troubled by the Scots, and that will be a stern test against the Pumas, who have had arguably the best scrum in the tournament so far, especially without the injured Scott Sio.

Mario Ledesma, the man behind their scrum revival, will be conflicted as he prepares to take on his home nation, but if Australia can get their set-piece right, they will have a good chance.

For all that, Australia have only lost one game to Argentina in their last ten, and even that required a monumental fightback in Mendoza.

Most of their clashes in the Rugby Championship have been close, with two notable exceptions, and given their current form, it should be the same again in this one.

Players to watch: 

For Argentina: Argentina bullied Ireland at the breakdown, and leading the way was flanker Pablo Matera. Back to form after a difficult time in Leicester, the 22-year-old looks bigger and more powerful. Australia have a pair of scavengers in Michael Hooper and David Pocock, but it remains to be seen whether they can cope with the big Pumas back-row blasting them off the ball. If Argentina can secure the same quick ball they managed against Ireland, they have every chance of winning this one.

For Australia: All the talk this week has been on Bryan Habana and Julian Savea, who are targeting Jonah Lomu's World Cup try-scoring records, all-time and at a single tournament respectively. Almost unnoticed, Drew Mitchell drew to within one try of Lomu and Habana with his double against Scotland, and his predatory skills will be key for the Wallabies. For all their strength in attack, neither Juan Imhoff nor Santiago Cordero are the most reliable defenders, so if Mitchell gets a chance, his tackle-breaking ability could come to the fore.

Head-to-head: Two of the most talented playmakers of the last decade will face off on Sunday, having spent last season playing together at Toulon. 

Matt Giteau returned for Australia during the Rugby Championship, and will take on Argentina for only the second time in his career, his first coming at the World Cup back in 2003. His inclusion gives Australia a dual-playmaker possibility which Daniel Hourcade has also favoured. 

Like Giteau, Juan Martin Hernandez has moved from fly-half out to inside centre, and his combination with Nicolas Sanchez caused Ireland all sorts of problems. It's a shame that he has had to wait so long in his career to play with such an adventurous Pumas side. 'El Mago' is now 33 but has lost none of his magic. The battle of the packs will probably decide this one, but Giteau and Hernandez will take full advantage if their team gets on top.

Team news: Australia have made three changes from the team that beat Scotland with Scott Sio ruled out and replaced by James Slipper. Toby Smith comes onto the bench, while injured duo Israel Folau and David Pocock are back from injury. They replace Kurtley Beale and Ben McCalman respectively while Quade Cooper and Sean McMahon drop out of the matchday squad.

Meanwhile Argentina made just one change, with Marcelo Bosch back from suspension and straight into the side at outside centre. He replaces Matias Moroni, who misses out altogether, with the only other change seeing Juan Figallo preferred to Juan Pablo Orlandi on the bench. Agustin Creevy was passed fit to play after going off early in the quarter-final.

Previous results:

2015: Australia won 34-9 in Mendoza
2014: Argentina won 21-17 in Mendoza
2014: Australia won 32-25 in Gold Coast
2013: Australia won 54-17 in Rosario
2013: Australia won 14-13 in Perth
2012: Australia won 25-19 in Rosario
2012: Australia won 23-19 in Gold Coast
2003: Australia won 24-8 in Sydney
2002: Australia won 17-6 in Buenos Aires
2000: Australia won 32-25 in Canberra
2000: Australia won 53-6 in Brisbane
1997: Argentina won 18-16 in Buenos Aires

Prediction: This is such a tough game to call, with Argentina looking a completely different side from the team that went down at home to the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship. If they dominate at the breakdown like they did against Ireland, they will take some stopping. As David Pocock struggles for fitness, we're going for Argentina to upset the odds. Argentina by 3!

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Date: Sunday, October 25
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16:00 local 
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Eddison