Clash with Super Mario's Pumas is no laughing matter: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

There may have been banter between mates in the lead up to Australia's clash with Argentina but when the whistle blows on Saturday Michael Cheika won't be laughing.

Australian assistant coach Stephen Larkham lit the fuse on Tuesday with a sarcastic sledge about Mario Ledesma's ability - or lack thereof - as a coach and the Argentine duly returned serve in an interview with Fairfax Media.

But the jokes aren't exactly Cheika's cup of tea.

"I'm not that into it, if you know what I mean," Cheika said.

"I get the joke and everything but like I said last night there won't be any joking on Saturday.

"It's going to be a big confrontation."Cheika will go up against Ledesma for the first time on Saturday. Photo: Getty ImagesCheika's serious approach to Saturday's clash is very much justified.

The Pumas caused some serious headaches for the All Blacks before the All Blacks did what the All Blacks always do and kicked clear late with two tries in the final 10 minutes.

They were also in complete control for the large majority of their win against the Springboks a fortnight earlier, the 32-19 scoreline an interesting line to draw when compared to the Wallabies' 23-18 win in Brisbane.

Add the obvious element of familiarity Ledesma has with the Australian pack and the Wallabies are left with a match which will arguably present a bigger challenge than the threat posed by South Africa.

"After last weekend you get a lot of people telling you it's all good, it's all good," Cheika said.

"But it's not all good until it's consistent and we bring that every single day and every single week.

"You can have a break in the week off.Ledesma is well respected within the Australian camp. Photo: Walmsley"It's a laugh but the laughs for me are after the game."

One only has to look at the team's named by both men today to understand the gravity this match holds for both nations.

There was no resting of big names as the All Blacks did this time last week.

Cheika named a full strength starting XV instead and Ledesma followed suit.

"I'm a huge fan of the Argentinians, I always have been," Cheika said.

"I have a long association with many of their players and the way they play rugby and the spirit they play rugby in.

"But my focus is on the Wallabies players and how we play.

"That's the dynamic that goes on every time you play football.

"What you do impacts what the opposition does and we have got to have a really good work ethic, solve problems on the run - which we have been doing really well the last couple of weeks around some of the noise from outside and on the field.Ledesma led the Jaguares to the finals in 2018. Photo: Getty Images"Guys in the team have stood up and been heard and are making it happen on Saturday.

"Whatever I think about them is pretty irrelevant at the end of the day.

"It's how I prepare our guys that's important."

A large part of Cheika's preparation must focus on the pace with which the Argentinians play.

The high octane tempo even caught the frenetic Kiwis off guard on Saturday and limiting the Pumas' offload game will go a long way to curbing the points they can score.

"Every game is different but we are always ready to go at the pace. It's about going at the pace for the 80," Cheika said.

"Last week we were able to stay at the pace of the game and everyone understands that. I don't think anyone is under the illusion that we don't need to work harder this week than the week before.

"This is a pivotal Test for both nations and the full strength teams named today."

If the Wallabies can show the work ethic in defence Cheika desires, control the pace of the game and improve their efficiency in the opposition's 22, the Australian coach is mighty confident his side will string two wins together for the first time since November last year.

"I'm a big believer, you know," he said.

"But I am pretty humble in the way that I don't like to say or big note anything.

"We believe a lot in ourselves and we have copped a fair bit of flak recently.

"We need to keep that aside and put ourselves in the best possible spot to get out there, play our best footy and rip in."

The Wallabies face the Pumas on Saturday, kicking off at 8pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Channel Ten and radio.