Andrew Kellaway scored a hat-trick as Australia thumped Argentina in Gold Coast on Saturday to round off their Rugby Championship campaign in emphatic fashion.
The 32-17 victory has the Wallabies finishing second in the competition standings, behind the All Blacks. South Africa will finish in third place, irrespective of their result against New Zealand later in the day.
This result also leaves Dave Rennie’s men in a rich vein of form and high in confidence heading into their end-of-year tour to Europe, courtesy of four consecutive wins – two each against Los Pumas and the Springboks, respectively.
Australia opened their account after only four minutes through Hodge and went to the break with a 17-3 advantage in an entertaining half of attacking rugby.
A wobble early in the second stanza allowed dogged Argentina skipper Julian Montoya to score a well-worked try and give them a glimmer of hope, before the Wallabies knuckled down again to finish strongly.
“I thought we started really well, but we knew this game could turn into an arm-wrestle,” said Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, in his 113th Test but his first at Townsville, in northern Queensland.
“Really happy with our fight. We probably need to shore up our maul, there were some pressure times in the corner, but overall really happy.”
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Australia, who began their championship campaign with two demoralising losses against New Zealand.
But spearheaded by Hooper and recalled playmaker Quade Cooper, they are now on a three-game win streak, bolstering their confidence ahead of a European tour in November.
The last time they won so many was in October-November 2017 when they enjoyed a four-game run before crashing to England.
While they are flying, defeat piled more pressure on Los Pumas, who have slumped to five straight losses, with the stuttering side conceding 163 points along the way.
Coach Mario Ledesma sent the same team out that lost to an understrength New Zealand 36-13 last week, but despite another gallant defensive effort they were again outplayed.
“We didn’t have a good game, we didn’t complete enough tackles in the first half,” said Montoya.
“But we are putting work in week in and week out and we want to get better for next week.”
Argentina frustrated Australia with two draws last season, but they were always on the back foot in front of a 25,000-capacity crowd at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
The Wallabies signalled their intent early on with a try after a surge upfield led by Kerevi.
The ball came to Hodge, who dummied to score, justifying Rennie’s decision to start him at fullback in place of the injured Tom Banks.
With all the momentum, try number two was never far away and it came from Kerevi with a pick and go after a deft grubber kick from Cooper, with the centre powering his way over to ground at the base of the post.
Cooper converted both tries to put Australia 14-0 ahead, but they gave away a needless penalty for obstruction off the restart, allowing Emiliano Boffelli to get Argentina off the mark.
It was a rare scoring opportunity for the Pumas with the Wallabies again stringing phases together and Cooper slotted a close-range penalty to take them to the break 17-3 ahead.
Complacency was always going to be a test for Australia and they let their guard down when Argentina won a lineout, set the maul, drove through their defence with ease and Montoya flopped over.
It sparked life into the Pumas, but when flank Marcos Kremer was sin-binned for a deliberate trip, momentum again shifted to Australia.
James O’Connor, in his first game since a groin strain in May, came on for Cooper and nailed a penalty, then off-loaded to Kellaway for a try after a period of intense pressure as they finished well.
© Agence France-Presse