The Wallabies secured a 36-20 win over Argentina on Saturday to move into second place in the Rugby Championship standings, while enabling the All Blacks to reclaim the title. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Although there are still two rounds of action remaining, the All Blacks can already afford to celebrate another title success. New Zealand’s bonus-point win over the Springboks earlier in the day took them to 20 log points, with the Wallabies now second on a total of nine.
That 11-point buffer is enough to ensure the All Blacks can complete their fixtures against Argentina in Buenos Aires, and the Boks at Loftus, safe in the knowledge that they cannot be overtaken. With South Africa in third place with six log points and Argentina trailing them by one, it’s become a contest to see who will finish in second place.
After suffering a sequence of six defeats following last year’s World Cup final, Australia have won back-to-back matches, and their performance against Argentina was undoubtedly their best of the year to date.
In sharp contrast to their opening Rugby Championship encounter with the All Blacks (which they lost 57-22), the Wallabies' lineout and defence had vastly improved, with the latter particularly providing the foundation for the bonus-point win.
As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Wallabies enjoyed just 33% of possession and 32% of territory, but they still scored five tries to two. Overall, Australia were forced to make 143 tackles to 54, while they missed 23 (which was only marginally worse than the Pumas’ 17 missed tackles).
Coming into Saturday’s clash, Australia had also scored just three tries in the Rugby Championship, but they’d doubled that tally by the 12th minute in Perth as they roared into an early 21-0 lead.
The tone was set from the outset when big centre Samu Kerevi barrelled over the tryline after just 43 seconds of play, with the hosts having been gifted an ideal counter-attacking opportunity from a poor Argentina clearance kick.
And while the lineout has proven to be a problematic area for the Wallabies this season (sitting at a competition-low 75%), it was from this set piece that a wonderfully worked move originated for Dane Haylett-Petty to score after receiving a beautiful inside ball from Quade Cooper.
That double strike early on provided the Wallabies with the perfect start, and they continued to ride that wave of momentum when Will Genia produced a big tackle on Nicolás Sánchez to dislodge the ball, before grubbering ahead to collect and score.
That moment of Genia magic sent the Wallabies into a commanding 21-0 lead after just 12 minutes, and while they spent the rest of the half predominantly on defence, the hosts repeatedly repelled the attacking advances of an increasingly frustrated Pumas side.
Yet, as Argentina continued to apply pressure with ball in hand (they made 113 carries to 35 in the first half), so the Wallabies’ penalty count climbed to 11 by the break. After repeated infringements, Wallabies prop Scott Sio was sent to the sin bin in the 33rd minute, while Sánchez slotted his second penalty of the half to reduce the deficit to 15 points at half-time.
Argentina then came roaring back into the contest when winger Santiago Cordero scored soon after the restart, with the visitors finally managing to convert pressure into seven well-deserved points.
However, the Wallabies ensured there would be no late fightback as Genia first burrowed his way over the tryline to secure his brace in the 52nd minute, while Michael Hooper was then put away for the hosts’ fifth try just after the hour mark.
That score opened up a 20-point lead, and although Facundo Isa did manage to score late in the game when Cooper was in the sin bin for committing a dangerous tackle, a long-range penalty from Reece Hodge pushed the Aussies back out to a 16-point buffer.
Wallabies – Tries: Samu Kerevi, Dane Haylett-Petty, Will Genia (2), Michael Hooper. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalty: Reece Hodge.
Argentina – Tries: Santiago Cordero, Facundo Isa. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (2). Penalties: Sánchez (2).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Sean McMahon, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Javier Ortega Desio, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Gabriel Ascarate, 23 Matías Orlando.
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images