Australia overcame the late withdrawal of skipper Michael Hooper and the second-half breakdown of No.10 Quade Cooper to claim a gutsy 41-26 win over Argentina in their Rugby Championship opener in Mendoza.
The Aussies scored five tries to two to claim a bonus point and were clinical and composed down the stretch, only taking the lead for the first time with 15 minutes to play but then getting home after the assistance of a penalty try and yellow card.
Australia was down by nine at the break but scored 31 points in the second half.
“That’s an unfathomable scoreline,” said Morgan Turinui on Stan Sport. “19-10 down you lose your playmaker, the crucial cog in everything you do, you don’t win many Test matches like that. I’m flabbergasted by that score.”
The playmaker’s injury is just the latest in a long line of shocking luck to befall coach Dave Rennie. As well as losing his captain on the game eve, Rennie has seen back line stars Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, and Samu Kerevi and prop Angus Bell fall to injuries this season.
“We’ve had a reasonable run of injury haven’t we,” said Rennie. I thought we were far more clinical and I’m happy with how we finished.
“We’ve got more in us but I’m really happy with the character we showed after late changes and losing a key guy within the game.”
James Slipper, who took over the captaincy from Hooper after the flanker’s admission that he needed a break from the game due to “mindset” issues, said the team was intent on winning for their team leader.
“It was tough,” said Slipper. “Most of the game we were behind. It was a real proud moment for me and the team because we wanted to put in a performance the fans would be proud of but also our captain Hoops would be proud of. We were thinking about him all day and we were playing for him tonight.”
Argentina started on fire although there was a hint of controversy to their opening try. Two phases before Pablo Matera raced across for the opening try on six minutes, there was a clear forward pass. With all the TMO intervention and stoppages it’s hard to conceive how it was missed and the try allowed.
Emiliano Boffelli converted the try and added two penalties to one from Cooper before Australia’s first try. Good work in the lineout from Darcy Swain set the platform and Cooper’s nuanced run and delayed pass allowed Jordie Petaia to burst into the line from the and cross.
Two more Boffelli penalties gave the hosts a 19-10 lead and Australia surged at them straight after the restart. A brilliant surge down the right involving Petaia and Tom Wright saw Jed Holloway scoop up a ball off his bootlaces but with a try imminent Los Pumas forced a penalty.
Cooper went down in agony on 47 minutes and it looked like the momentum was with Argentina. But Fraser McReight, in after Hooper’s decision to return home, crossed for a try to cut the margin.
Los Pumas weren’t done, responding with a superb counter attacking try but Australia were awarded a rare penalty try on 61 minutes after a collapsed maul. Matías Alemanno received a yellow card and the Australians made the most of their advantage.
Reece Hodge banged over a penalty soon after for the Aussies to lead for the first half and with Argentina still down to 14 Folau Fainga’a capped a storming game, peeling from the maul and barging over the try line.
Australia had a penalty just after the siren but both teams played on looking for bonus points and with 85.04 on the clock Len Ikitau crossed to claim the extras.
“Players are out on their feet, we just about are as well,” said Andrew Mehrtens on Stan Sport. “What a sequence of play, two teams punch drunk.”
Rugby – The Roar