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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Ashley-Cooper's hat-trick helps Cheika's Wallabies sink daring Argentina

Michael Cheika’s men outscored the Pumas four tries to nil.

Argentina 15

Australia 29

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

FOUR TRIES TO nil. Despite the thrilling attacking rugby Daniel Hourcade’s Argentina once again offered up in what has been a brilliant World Cup campaign, they couldn’t find the clinical edge to seal the deal when they stretched Australia.

Sean McMahon and Tevita Kuridrani celebrate with Adam Ashley-Cooper after he scored his sides third try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The linebreak stats are likely to be leaned in Argentina’s favour, but the difference was that Michael Cheika’s Wallabies were ruthless when they identified and created openings. They were calm in try-scoring positions, composed in the stress of opportunity.

The final passage of Argentina attack told a tale. Three, four times it looked like the Pumas would score with their enthrallingly-ambitious approach, but on each occasion the Wallabies managed to cling on.

David Pocock, around whom there were fitness doubts pre-match, was sublime for Cheika’s side in their defensive duties, a constant menace at the breakdown and a huge hitter. He might just be the best player in the world.

After the intensely physical, collision-heavy kicking contest that we saw in Twickenham last night, this was something of a counterpoint. Loose, frantic, frenetic, offload-obsessed; it was perhaps the most entertainment we’ve had in a World Cup full of it.

The Pumas stayed true to their philosophy of attacking from deep at every possible opportunity, creating trouble for themselves countless times. Still, we must cherish the energy of their style, as well as the quite sensational support they brought with them to this tournament.

Cheika’s side had the more steely edge, despite being obliterated at the scrum. Bernard Foley at out-half had another excellent outing, prompting their best attack and kicking well. Outside him, Matt Giteau was once again an emblem of the value of experience.

Pocock was ably supported by the hard working Scott Fardy, while Kane Douglas was central to many of the good things the Wallabies pack did. Wing duo Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell were powerful when called upon.

Losing Juan Imhoff and Agustín Creevy to first-half injuries was a blow for the Pumas, as was the injury-enforced replacement of Juan Martín Hernández in the second 40.

Sekope Kepu celebrates after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Another thriller awaits next weekend back in Twickenham, when the Wallabies take on New Zealand in the World Cup decider. The two best attacking sides in the world.

The opening minutes were disastrous for the Pumas this evening, with Rob Simmons picking off a telegraphed inside pass from Nicolas Sánchez close to a ruck to streak clear and score, seconds after Mitchell had almost done similar.

Foley’s conversion had the Wallabies 7-0 up with less than two minutes elapsed.

A stirring linebreak from Marcelo Bosch from a lineout platform – with Hernández shipping a rib tickler for his clever pass – led to the Pumas’ first points, Tevita Kuridrani infringing as Cheika’s side scramble and Sánchez taking the three.

The Pumas’ unbreakable desire to play out from deep in their own half cost them dearly for the second Australia try, which left Hourcade’s men 14-3 behind with only 11 minutes gone.

Santiago Cordero – a wonderful talent but error-prone here – quick tapped a mark but knocked the ball forward in his haste to run, providing the scrum foundation for Foley to create the score.

The out-half’s lofted pass over the head of the onrushing Juan Imhoff, skipping two teammates and finding Ashley-Cooper racing onto it, was divine. His conversion from close to the right touchline was another pleasure.

Will Genia was perhaps lucky not to be yellow carded for tackling Martín Landajo from an offside position shortly after, though Sánchez narrowed the margin just after the quarter mark with his second penalty. The shot at goal came on account of James Slipper – in for the injured Scott Sio – being punished at the scrum.

The Pumas were then on the receiving end of Wayne Barnes’ yellow card, the English referee harshly adjudging that Lavanini’s failure to get a clear wrap of his arms in a chop tackle on Israel Folau was worth more than a penalty. The boos were resounding, but the 22-year-old lock spent 10 minutes in the bin.

Tomas Lavanini leaves the field after being yellow carded Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Wallabies scored their third try in that period, Ashley-Cooper the beneficiary of a wondrous Giteau skip pass to cross in the left corner this time. It came after Folau had almost burst through and then the Wallabies had stretched the Pumas’ defence over and back across the pitch inside their 22.

Giteau held the key to get Cheika’s men over the line.

There was time for more thrilling drama in the first half after Sánchez’s third penalty drew the Pumas back to within 10. With the interval approaching, Landajo delayed a short pass on the fringes for Cordero to burst through the Wallabies’ frontline.

His offload found Hernández, but ‘El Mago’ opted for a one-handed offload when he was scragged from behind by Foley. The Pumas midfielder could perhaps have made a two-handed pass out to fullback Joaquín Tuculet with the tryline begging, but his back-door flick didn’t go to hand and chance was left untaken.

The Pumas were offered an encouraging start to the second half, with Sánchez kicking a penalty to bring them to 19-12, again as a result of Slipper going to ground at scrum time.

An uncharacteristically naive penalty from Juan Martín Hernández Lobbe, playing the ball on the ground in the ruck, allowed Foley to push the Wallabies out to 22-12 soon after though.

A huge counter-attacking break from Tuculet sparked a madcap final 30 minutes of the game, with the Pumas somehow bringing even more evasion, pace and tempo to their attack as they severely tested the Wallabies.

Cheika’s men lost their discipline, but Barnes opted against a yellow card, even as Sánchez hit another penalty on the 54-minute mark after a tackle in the air at lineout time.

Pablo Matera after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Pumas’ scrum dominance only grew, and Foley’s long-range drop goal attempt was recognition of the fact that the Argentinians were growing and growing into the game, gathering serious momentum.

Replacement wing Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino made a searing break through Tevita Kuridrani’s weak tackle attempt, but once again Pocock was in position to turn the ball over after a sharp string of Pumas offloads.

Cordero was next to break as the final 10 minutes approach, but for the umpteenth time there was no finish. The Wallabies soon showed them how to do it.

Nick Phipps – on at scrum-half for the impressive Genia – broke down the shortside from a scrum 50 metres out, skipping to Drew Mitchell, who beat Cordero on the outside left and then slalomed his way back into midfield and through three tackles.

It looked like the Toulon man would go all the way, but a desperate covering tackle forced him to pass. The ball bobbled along the ground and into the hands of Ashley-Cooper to complete his hattrick with an easy finish.

Foley wrapped up the scoring and then the Pumas gave one final push in attack, once again showing daring and cutting edge. Cheika will have been buoyed by how his men held out, but the game finished to the sound of Pumas’ fans singing.

It’s been a beautiful journey. 

Argentina scorers:

Penalties: Nicolas Sánchez (5 from 5)

Australia scorers:

Tries: Rob Simmons, Adam Ashley-Cooper (3)

Conversions: Bernard Foley (3 from 4)

Penalties: Bernard Foley (1 from 2)

ARGENTINA: Joaquín Tuculet; Santiago Cordero, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martín Hernández (Jeronimo De La Fuente ’44), Juan Imhoff (Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino ’18); Nicolas Sánchez, Martín Landajo (Tomás Cubelli ’56); Marcos Ayerza (Lucas Noguera ’61), Agustín Creevy (capt.) (Julian Montoya ’30), Ramiro Herrera (Juan Figallo ’61); Guido Petti, Tomás Lavanini (YC – ’26 to ’36); Pablo Matera, Juan Martín Hernández Lobbe, Leonardo Senatore (Facundo Isa ’49).

AUSTRALIA: Israel Folau (Matt Toomua ’64); Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau (Kurtley Beale ’47), Drew Mitchell; Bernard Foley, Will Genia (Nick Phipps ’67); James Slipper (Toby Smith ’53), Stephen Moore (capt.) (Tatafu Polota-Nau ’59), Sekope Kepu (Greg Holmes ’53); Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons (Dean Mumm ’67); Scott Fardy (blood – Ben McCalman ’56 to ’63), Michael Hooper, David Pocock.

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

Attendance: 80,025.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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