Reece Hodge missed a defining penalty with two minutes remaining as the Wallabies and Argentina played out to a 15-15 draw in Newcastle on Saturday.
The result has Argentina and Australia drawing level on points with New Zealand on the Tri-Nations log, but Los Pumas have a game in hand.
This was not as exciting a clash as the scoreline suggests but, all things considered, it was a fair result between two teams who brought very little to the encounter in terms of creativity, urgency and intensity.
The first half was blighted by off-the-ball scuffles, unnecessary needling and ill-discipline on both sides. Despite all that, the Wallabies were clearly the more dominant side and yet poor decision-making and stubborn man-on-man defence from Argentina prevented them from making it count on the scoreboard.
Flyhalves Reece Hodge and Nicolas Sanchez traded penalties early on for a 3-3 scorecard, but the Wallabies then dominated territory and possession. But while that dominance resulted in point-scoring opportunities, captain Michael Hooper’s constant calls to kick to the line were countered by Los Pumas’ unbreachable defensive line.
In fact, after Argentina had weathered the storm, they somehow worked their way downfield and won a kickable penalty. Sanchez stepped up and to split the uprights to put his team in front. Australia rallied late in the half and when Hooper finally pointed at the posts, allowing Hodge to strike to consecutive penalties for a 9-6 lead into the break.
The second half started off like the first ended, with Australia on top. Argentina hooker Julian Montoya was yellow-carded soon after the restart for an indiscretion at the breakdown. That led to Argentina suffering a further six-point setback via the boot of Hodge.
But the moment Mario Ledesma turned to his bench, there was a massive momentum shift in Argentina’s favour. Los Pumas’ loose trio had been ineffective for much of the clash, but the introduction of Facundo Isa upped the urgency and tipped the breakdown battle in Argentina’s favour.
With Argentina suddenly controlling territory better and dictating the pace of the game, Sanchez proved again he is a man for the big occasion. He nailed three penalties for nine unanswered points to draw level at 15 all with about 10 minutes remaining.
Then, in the 78th minute, Hooper won a brilliant penalty on the ground for his team. But with the chance to possibily seal the win for Australia, Hodge’s attempt flew past the right upright for his first miss of the night.
There was still time and opportunity for either side to snatch a win, but with Australia on attack, the visitors ripped the ball in the tackle and launched an attack of their own. Spotting no defensive cover at the back, captain Pablo Matera hacked the ball upfield and Santiago Cordero chased valiantly but overran the ball five metres out from tryline. The Wallabies gathered possession and happily put the ball into touch to settle for a share of the spoils.
Wallabies – Penalties: Reece Hodge (5).
Argentina – Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (5).
Wallabies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Nic White, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Valetini, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Argentina – 15 Santiago Carreras, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Santiago Chocobares, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo.
Subs: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Emiliano Boffelli, 23 Santiago Cordero.
Photo: Getty Images