David Pocock (Gallo)
London – A look at four key player matchups for the Rugby World Cup semifinal between Argentina and Australia at Twickenham on Sunday.
JUAN IMHOFF vs. DREW MITCHELL
Both wingers have scored one try every two tests in their international careers, and have been on the money this tournament.
Mitchell (34 tries in 68 tests) may not rank as high as Jonah Lomu and Bryan Habana in the pantheon of great rugby wingers, but is closing in on surpassing them on the all-time try-scoring list at the World Cup. With 14 tries in 11 games, he is one shy of the record held jointly by Lomu and Habana.
Imhoff has been a revelation in Britain, crossing five times in five games to finish off the slick moves created by Argentina’s improved backline. He has made 10 clean breaks already.
While Mitchell may just be the more clinical finisher, Imhoff is quicker and a more elusive runner from deep. It makes for some head-to-head at Twickenham.
NICOLAS SANCHEZ vs. BERNARD FOLEY
Australia probably won’t want the game to come down to a kicking contest — because Nicolas Sanchez appears to have the edge over Bernard Foley in that department.
Sanchez has successfully booted 26 out of 30 attempts off the tee so far, with nine of them coming against Ireland in the quarterfinals when his only unsuccessful strike hit the post. Foley missed three of his five conversions against Scotland in Australia’s quarterfinal, and had a kick charged down for a try, but at least he stood up well to the pressure of landing the winning penalty kick in the last minute.
Foley has the better attacking game — note his slick second try against England in the pool stage — and has carried 160 meters in Australia’s gruelling campaign so far.
Sanchez has a reputation for having a big defensive game as well as an accurate boot, which is perhaps unsurprising given his rugby hero is England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson. But he has added some attacking flair this World Cup and is linking up well with playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez at No. 12.
LEONARDO SENATORE vs. DAVID POCOCK
David Pocock’s return to fitness after a calf injury is a major boost for the Wallabies, reuniting him with Michael Hooper to give the team a destructive presence at the breakdown.
The Pocock-Hooper combination, now referred to in rugby circles as “Pooper,” dismantled England’s breakdown work and was missed against Scotland while Pocock was out.
Pocock is a growing presence in the loose, too, which is where the rangy Senatore is at his best.
The Argentina No. 8 hasn’t won a turnover this tournament and has collected just one lineout throw, but has 18 gain-line carries and is a strong, galloping support runner. It takes some player to bump Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe out of the No. 8 jersey but Senatore managed it.
RAMIRO HERRERA vs. JAMES SLIPPER
The absence of Scott Sio because of an elbow injury deprives the Wallabies of their best scrummaging loosehead, which is a big blow ahead of a game against arguably the top scrum in world rugby.
James Slipper comes in for a 73rd cap, a remarkable stat given he only made his test debut in June 2010. Slipper has experience — he also captains Queensland Reds in Super Rugby — but can he hold up in the set piece? If not, Argentina tighthead Ramiro Herrera could capitalize.
Some thought Herrera was fortunate to escape a red card against Ireland in the quarterfinals when, having already been sin-binned for an illegal tackle on Keith Earls, he failed to bind at a ruck and came charging in, head-first.
Herrera is better not in the loose, though, but in the scrum. His front-row partnership with Marcos Ayerza and Agustin Creevy is the stuff of nightmares for the Wallabies.