MENDOZA: It was the page in history everyone wanted to avoid but after the preparation from hell the Wallabies will be known forever more as the first team to fall to Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
It took Los Pumas three years to reach their goal. With a final throw of the dice in the four-nation championship they pulled off a 21-17 win over the team ranked third in the world to claim their first victory in front of a deafening home crowd on Saturday.
The Wallabies will fly home to Australia with serious questions being asked about their execution and decision-making on and off the field.
This was a must-win Test match. For pride and for unity, after Kurtley Beale’s mid-air verbal stoush with a staff member exposed deep fissures in Ewen McKenzie’s team.
In the end, Beale could only watch from the sideline as the teammates who fought for him to stay in Argentina took a commanding 14-0 lead but collapsed under the weight of the Pumas’ unpredictable style and superior scrum.
Two-and-a-half yellow cards – against Nick Phipps, Michael Hooper and two hastily reversed cards against James Horwill and Israel Folau – did not help matters. The Wallabies were also, for yet another week, unlucky to have a try disallowed upon review early in the second half.
But they did themselves no favours for much of the match, allowing Argentina a leg-up at the end of the first half when they should have been working on closing out the match.
“You don’t want to be part of that history, but you don’t want to be disrespectful to Argentina, that’s sort of saying that they’re not mixing it [in the championship] and I think they’re mixing it really well,” McKenzie said.
“I’ve watched all the games in this championship and they’ve been very competitive and you have to respect that.
“They have sectors of the game they’re very good at, and they probably had issue with closing out games … this time they closed it out.”
Hooper said the teams’ nightmare week had no bearing on the result.
“It’s got to come down to the 80 minutes, we’ve got to be a team if we want to be competitive that can switch on and do the job. That’s as simple as it gets,” he said.
“There’s going to be distractions wherever you go, we do a lot of travelling, you have to turn up on the night and be able to do the job. We [turned up] and they were better and the crowd were really solid behind them.”
It started so well, with two converted tries in the first 13 minutes to Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Higginbotham.
Argentinian No.8 Leonardo Senatore exploited an overlap when he scored in the corner in the 35th minute, but two missed shots at goal from five-eighth Nicolas Sanchez had the Pumas trailing 14-5 for all but the final breath of the first half.
In the 40th minute a costly penalty against Australia handed Sanchez the chance to peg back the deficit.
“That kept them in touch and gave them hope,” McKenzie said. “That penalty got them within a converted try of putting pressure on us.”
In the face of a 16-8 penalty count against them and a second half bookended by yellow cards, with Kuridrani’s disallowed try thrown in for good measure, the Wallabies could put only three more points on the board for the rest of the match.
Five-eighth Bernard Foley battled green laser beams in his face to miss two out of three shots at goal in the second half, and Hooper was very unlucky to be sent to the bin with six minutes left after failing to change direction in a charge-down attempt on fullback Joaquin Tuculet.
But Australia butchered what little possession it had and failed to cope with the Pumas’ offload game they had spent the week warning each other about.
A try to winger Juan Imhoff in the 53rd minute and five points from the boot of Sanchez put the home side 18-17 in front with 25 minutes to go.
Both sides missed two shots at goal in the next 10 minutes but when Hooper was sent to the bin with six minutes to go, Sanchez put the nail in the coffin.
McKenzie had a bit to say about the calls that didn’t go Australia’s way but acknowledged the Pumas’ clever game plan that successfully rattled the Wallabies.
“There were things there we’ll examine but you can’t get away from the fact that Argentina played a very harassing game and they forced errors and we made mistakes and never got any rhythm,” he said.
“They were able to control possession, keep us at the right end of the field and keep us under the pump.”