James Hanson may have produced a solid first-up Test for the Wallabies against South Africa but Tatafu Polota-Nau is set to return for the Argentina clash.
Injury-plagued hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is set for a shock Wallabies starting return to quell an improved Argentinian outfit closing in on a maiden Rugby Championship victory.
Polota-Nau, without a game for six weeks, will Tuesday be named as one of three changes to Australia’s line-up for Saturday night’s clash on the Gold Coast.
While coach Ewen McKenzie is poised to promote winger Peter Betham and back-rower Ben McCalman, to replace injured stalwarts Adam Ashley-Cooper and Wycliff Palu, he could have easily eased Polota-Nau back on the bench.
Fourth-string hooker James Hanson produced a commendable display in his first run-on Test start in the 24-23 win over South Africa in Perth to deserve another shot at the No.2 jersey.
But McKenzie is taking no chances against a Pumas pack that has roughed up both the Springboks and All Blacks forwards in their three losses to date.
Argentina’s scrum outmuscled South Africa in their two tight defeats before having the better of New Zealand for many of their set-pieces in the 28-9 loss in Napier on Saturday.
The scoreline didn’t do the Pumas, led by inspirational hooker Agustin Creevy, justice and Polota-Nau’s scrummaging power is required to take the expected assault head-on.
Match fitness will be a concern as the NSW rake’s last match was in the Super Rugby final when he strained his medial ligament midway through the Waratahs’ last-gap win over the Crusaders.
On the basis of training formations at Bond University on Monday afternoon, McCalman appears set to beat Scott Higginbotham to the No.8 role left vacant by a head knock to Palu.
Higginbotham was impressive off the bench in Perth, but it seems McKenzie prefers to use his X-factor late in games.
With Henry Speight still nursing a hamstring problem, Waratahs winger Betham gets a chance of a second run-on Test with vice-captain Ashley-Cooper to miss a week with an ongoing neck problem.
The 97-Test back has been managing a nerve compression injury to his neck which was exacerbated against the Springboks.
“It’s disappointing to lose two experienced members of our squad ahead of what is an extremely important game against Argentina,” McKenzie said.
“However, this year we’ve taken a proactive approach to making early decisions around guys carrying injuries, which is the case here.”
Argentina gave Australia a major fright last year in Perth, losing 14-13 in the rain, before imploding in the return match in Rosario, where Israel Folau scored a hat-trick in a 54-17 thrashing.
Lock Rob Simmons said the key was nullifying the Pumas pack.
“It’s a big challenge for us as a tight-five but we handled it pretty well last year,” Simmons said.
“If we can get the scrum right we can get good go-forward for the rest of the game.
“They’re definitely improving and it’s only a matter of time (before they win). We don’t want to be that team (they beat).”
Wallabies likely team: Israel Folau, Peter Betham, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper (c), Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper.