A courageous Argentina battled back to earn a dramatic 15-15 Tri Nations draw with Australia Saturday and reinforce their credentials after an epic win against the All Blacks last week.
The Pumas looked in trouble when they slipped nine points behind in a brutal second half in Newcastle, north of Sydney, but the golden boot of Nicolás Sánchez rescued them to keep the tournament wide open.
After his 25 points against New Zealand, the Stade Français playmaker again bagged them all, with his Australian opposite number Reece Hodge missing a penalty in the dying minutes which could have secured a win for the Wallabies.
Mario Ledesma's side came into the match on a high after their first win against New Zealand in 35 years last weekend, and their passion, along with a feast of Wallabies mistakes, carried them through.
"We trusted in ourselves, in our system. They were nine points ahead but we were still doing our system," said Pumas skipper Pablo Matera after the try-less game.
"It was not our best performance but it was a good effort from our team. It was really physical.
"Australia played a great game, they put us under a lot of pressure, but we defended really well. We didn't have a lot of chances to score tries but we were very disciplined and I think that's why we tied."
It left all three teams on six points on the Tri Nations ladder, but Argentina are in the box seat with a game in hand. They have a return clash against the All Blacks in a week's time before facing Australia once more.
Australia coach Dave Rennie kept the same backline that helped orchestrate their own upset of the All Blacks two weeks ago and they dominated possession in the first half at a sell-out McDonald Jones Stadium.
But they were plagued by poor execution that saw two tries disallowed and other chances wasted.
Australia nevertheless took a 9-6 advantage into the second stanza and stretched their lead to nine points, but the Pumas refused to give up.
"We tried to dominate territory and I think we won that, but we were just unable to convert in the second half and there was some ill-discipline late in the game," said Australia captain Michael Hooper.
"We tried to punch through them but they did well to slow the ball up and get men in the defensive line, so it made it hard. We put some smart kicks in but we couldn't crack it tonight."
The odds were stacked against Argentina, who went into the game having lost 17 of their last 19 against the Wallabies, including 14 of the previous 15 in Australia.
But they were buzzing with confidence as they searched for a fourth win in five Tests.
Australia applied the early pressure and Hodge nailed his first of five penalties after just three minutes, only for Sánchez to cancel it out almost immediately.
In the hunt
The Wallabies began stringing together attacking runs and centre Jordan Petaia was unlucky to have an acrobatic try disallowed after his foot strayed onto the chalk chasing a deft Hunter Paisami grubber kick.
Argentina were forced to absorb intense pressure as Australia made all the territory only for errors to creep in at critical times.
Ill-discipline cost the Wallabies another penalty against the run of play, with Sánchez converting before Hodge levelled the scores.
It set up a frantic finish to the first half as tempers frayed and scuffles broke out.
Wallaby Marika Koroibete had a try disallowed for a forward pass just before Hodge landed another penalty for a 9-6 lead.
He bagged his fourth soon after the restart as Pumas hooker Julian Montoya was sent to the sin bin for persistent offending and made it five out of five to further extend their lead as drizzle came down.
But the irrepressible Sánchez booted three consecutive penalties to level the scores and set up a tense finale. Hodge had a golden opportunity to win the game with two minutes left, but sent his kick veering off to the right.
by Martin Parry, AFP