The Wallabies pulled off the biggest ever comeback in international rugby history yesterday morning in Argentina, turning an abysmal 7-31 halftime deficit into a stunning 45-34 victory. The spark seemed to be a desperate and vicious harangue from coach Cheika at half time, which led to the Australians straightening up their attack and holding on to the ball.
The match started with two Argentine tries in the first five minutes, which set the tone for the remainder of the half. Los Pumas seemed to break the Wallaby defensive line almost at will, and when the men in gold had the ball they seemed clueless. The only bright spots were captain Michael Hooper, who was determined to lead the way with hard, straight running in the midfield that led to several breaks and earned him a try, and David Pocock, who was again the Wallabies most consistent.
At half time Argentina’s total of 31 was already the most points they have ever scored in a match against Australia. The Wallabies, on the other hand, were staring down the barrel of a 3rd straight defeat and a last place finish in The Rugby Championship for the first time ever. The knives were inches from Cheika’s back, and based on the dismal Australian performance it looked like his entire coaching staff and several players were going with him.
The cameras captured a colossal spray from Cheika in his half time message which seemed to at least stiffen the Wallabies spines in defence. An unlucky bounce from the kick-off saw Australia start the second half on their own 5 metre line, but for the first time in the match they were able to repel Argentina. A lucky bounce from a charge down four minutes later, and quick hands from Hooper, resulted in a try to Izack Rodda, and momentum started to shift.
As he did all Super Rugby season for the Waratahs, once Bernard Foley sniffed a chance he took control of the match. From looking clueless in the first half the Wallabies attack suddenly had teeth, with some clever attacking play and hard running resulting in quick tries for Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty. With the gap suddenly closed to 28-31 Los Pumas started to panic, although a penalty goal extended their lead.
After the Wallabies scored 3 tries in the first 15 minutes of the second half the pace slowed slightly, although Foley continued to have the ball on a string. Clever game management and a powerful drive from Pocock saw the Wallabies take the lead for the first time in the match, 35-34, and a rugby league style cross-field bomb from Foley for Haylett-Petty took Australia to 42.
A late penalty goal from Foley, who kicked 7 from 7 for a personal haul of 15 points, stretched the lead to 11 late in the game. Tolu Latu was sent off with five minutes to go for striking, but the Wallaby defence held firm to hold onto their lead and secure third place in the Rugby Championship.