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Argentina comes back to beat Australia 21-17

October 5, 2014

MENDOZA, Argentina (AP) — Playing its third season in the Rugby Championship, Argentina posted an historic first win in the four-nation tournament on Saturday, overcoming an early 14-0 deficit to beat Australia 21-17.

Before 40,000 spectators, 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 it held a narrow margin for the remainder of the match.

“It has been a huge effort from many people, we deserved this,” said Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade. “This is the beginning of something, but there are still lots of things we need to improve. We are on the right track and confident to keep growing.”

The loss was Australia’s first to Argentina since 1997. The Pumas played 18 tests against their fellow southern hemisphere teams before Saturday’s inaugural victory.

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.

“The Pumas played very, very well,” said Australia coach Ewen McKenzie. “You have to give credit to the opposition. We didn’t have the ball and you can’t play without the ball. The scrum was significant and we made too many penalties.”

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, the 2014 champions. South Africa finished second.

Australia started strongly, as it had to, to give itself a buffer against the tiredness it expected to face in the second half when it began to feel the toll of its tough previous match against the Springboks and its long haul from South Africa to Argentina.

It also had to overcome the disruption to its selection and preparation caused by an incident during the flight from South Africa involving utility back Kurtley Beale.

Kuridrani’s opening try came after only three minutes. 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.

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.

But 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 which 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. But Foley kicked a penalty from an earlier advantage to give the Wallabies a 17-11 lead.

Imhoff then scored against an undermanned 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.

“We kept the intensity through 80 minutes,” said Argentina substitute scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli. “In previous games we lost our minds. But this time we remained focused.”

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Argentina 21 (Leonardo Senatore, Juan Imhoff tries; Nicolas Sanchez conversion, 3 penalties), Australia 17 (Tevita Kuridrani, Scott Higginbotham tries; Bernard Foley 2 conversions, penalty), HT: 8-14.

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