Rugby Championship: Aussies finish on a high, Pumas on a low

·4-min read

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — Andrew Kellaway scored three tries as Australia finished the Rugby Championship on a high with a fourth straight win, ensuring Argentina’s tumultuous, months-long tour ended without a victory in six tests.

The Wallabies scored two first-half tries within eight minutes while Argentina lock Tomas Lavanini was in the sin-bin and added three more in the second half to win 32-17 on Saturday at Robina Stadium.

Two late, close-range tries to replacement frontrower Thomas Gallo helped reduce the margin from 29 to 15 points and add a small piece of consolation for the Pumas.

The Australians ran out of replacements after taking a commanding lead and losing center Samu Kerevi and winger Jordan Petaia to injuries, forcing a reshuffle and allowing the Pumas to take advantage of the disjointed defense.

For Australia, Japan-based Sean McMahon played the last quarter of the match to earn his first test cap since 2017 and 38-year-old prop Greg Holmes became the oldest Wallabies player to appear in a test since World War II when he went on as second-half replacement.

“At 32-3, there was a bit of frustration,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said. “We wanted to put the foot on the throat, and just lacked a little bit of accuracy, discipline, and gave them some soft possession, and then we just didn’t defend well from there either.

“Our defense was excellent for the majority of the game but disappointing for that last stage.”

Back-to-back wins over Argentina followed successive victories against World Cup champion South Africa last month, helping restore the Australian squad’s confidence after three consecutive losses to New Zealand.

The unbeaten All Blacks had already secured the Rugby Championship title before their last match of the series later Saturday against the South Africa.

The odds were already stacked against Argentina producing an upset against Australia before six Pumas players were banned from Saturday's match because they broke coronavirus protocols.

The Argentine squad has been in and out of quarantine since before their first test of the Rugby Championship in South Africa against the Springboks on Aug. 14, and a mid-week cross-border trip to a health retreat by six players and two staffers resulted in a demoralizing ban.

The players, including former captain Pablo Matera, were reportedly unaware that domestic border restrictions between Queensland and New South Wales states had been reset. They will be allowed to rejoin the squad Sunday ahead of the flight home.

Both teams missed shots at goal before flyhalf Quade Cooper gave Australia a 3-0 with a successful penalty in the 10th minute.

The Australians were dominating possession and field position but weren't able to convert those advantages into points until after Lavanini was yellow carded in the 27th minute following a lineout infringement.

Hooker Folau Fainga’a crossed for a try almost immediately and was instrumental in the next seven minutes later.

He threw to the back of a lineout, swept around to collect the tap down and give a pinpoint pass for No. 8 Rob Valetini, who ran into space before unloading inside for Kellaway to score untouched.

The Pumas piled on pressure after being awarded a penalty just before halftime but Australia's defense held and Emiliano Boffelli eventually took a penalty goal to make it 15-3 at the break.

The Australians took a 20-3 lead three minutes into the second half when center Kerevi scored and made it 32-3 when Kellaway, after shifting from wing to fullback, crossed near the left touchline in the 54th and 58th minutes.

The Pumas hit back with a pair of tries to Gallo.

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma said ill discipline and a failure to convert scoring chances hurt his team again but the late tries were a boost.

“There was a show of character after two months of a lot of effort and sacrifices, and after a difficult week,” he said. “Maybe the game was done. But you still have to do it.”

Ledesma said he started the tour with 48 in the squad and, because of injuries and players unavailable, had 32 to select from for the final game. He said what the Pumas most needed now was a rest.

The Argentina-based players in the Pumas squad will fly home on Sunday and others will return to Europe before re-assembling again for three more tests in France, Italy and Ireland next month.

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