Argentina posted their first-ever win in the four-nation Rugby Championship, hauling back an early 14-0 deficit to beat Australia 21-17 on Saturday.
Winger Juan Imhoff scored a try during the first of three 10-minute spells in the second half, when Australia was reduced to 14-men by a yellow card. With scrumhalf Nick Phipps in the sin-bin, Imhoff’s try and Nicolas Sanchez’s conversion gave Argentina the lead in 53rd minute and they held a narrow margin for the remainder of the match.
Already battling jetlag and off-field distractions, the Wallabies’ scrum was under intense pressure and they conceded a stream of penalties at breakdowns, lost Phipps, Israel Folau and captain Michael Hooper to yellow cards and spent almost three-quarters of the match inside their own half.
In a final and bitter blow, flyhalf Bernard Foley, who kicked a penalty and converted first half tries to Tevita Kuridrani and Scott Higginbotham, hit the post with a potentially-decisive 69th-minute penalty attempt 11 minutes from fulltime after one of Australia’s few sorties into Argentina territory.
Sanchez then added a 73rd-minute goal — his fourth from seven attempts — to put the Pumas’ lead beyond the range of a penalty to effectively secure the match.
Argentina finished in last place, four points behind Australia. The Wallabies had wins over Argentina and South Africa this season and a first-match draw against New Zealand, this year’s champions. South Africa finished second.
Australia started strongly, as they had to, to give themselves a buffer against the tiredness they expected to face in the second half, when they began to feel the toll of their tough previous match against the Springboks and their long haul from South Africa to Argentina.
They also had to overcome the disruption to their selection and preparation caused by an incident during the flight from South Africa involving utility back Kurtley Beale.
Kuridrani’s opening try after only three minutes — he had a second disallowed in the sixth minute of the second half — gave the Wallabies their ideal start. After forcing a turnover, Hooper and Higginbotham made strong runs and the ball was conveyed quickly to Kuridrani, who stepped through a weak tackle to score. Foley converted.
Higginbotham, who started in a Test for the first time in two years, scored his first Test try in the same period, fending the last defender after quick passes from Phipps and Saia Fainga’a.
Foley’s conversion gave the Wallabies a 14-0 lead after 13 minutes.
However, the Pumas were enjoying substantial advantages of territory and possession and, although their attacking play was sometimes stilted, they were able to pressure the Wallabies from good field position. After a long period on attack, when they ran fruitlessly at the core of the Wallabies defense, moved the ball quickly wide and created an overlap for backrower Leonardo Senatore to score.
Sanchez missed his first two kicks at goal, but landed a 40th-minute penalty that cut the lead to 14-8 at halftime. Phipps was sin-binned for a breakdown infringement in the 42nd minute and Sanchez kicked a goal from the ensuring penalty to take the margin 14-11.
Kuridrani crossed the Pumas’ line in the sixth minute of the second half, but the television match official could not see the ball grounded and the try was disallowed. Foley kicked a penalty from an earlier advantage to give the Wallabies a 17-11 lead.
Imhoff then scored against an under-manned defense and Sanchez kicked the goal that put the Pumas ahead. Their one-point lead lasted 11 minutes, secured by Foley’s missed attempt, and Sanchez added the final points with seven minutes remaining.
The Wallabies’ chances of saving the match died with a series of time-consuming scrums in the final minutes.
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