The Wallabies opened their Rugby Championship campaign with a smashing 41-26 win over Argentina, with the win being dedicated to absent skipper Michael Hooper.
Center Len Ikitau crossed over for the fifth time five minutes after full-time in Mendoza to bag a bonus point as the Wallabies trailed 19-10 and amassed 31 points after the break.
But the win seemed to have come at a price with playmaker Quade Cooper being assisted off the field with an apparent ankle injury.
The Australians entered the Test without talisman captain Hooper, who withdrew from the tour the day before the game for mental health reasons. Stand-in skipper James Slipper said they wanted to make Hooper, who had already flown home to Australia, proud.
“It’s a really proud moment for me and also for the team, because we really wanted to put in an effort that our fans can be proud of and also our captain Hoops. [Hoops]’ said Slipper in a post-match interview. “We thought about him all day and played for him.”
The Wallabies lost another of their most veteran players when playmaker Cooper slid onto the grass seven minutes into the second half while on offense. The 34-year-old had already missed the losing England series with a calf injury, but appeared to grab his ankle in apparent pain and was later seen in a moon boot.
But the Wallabies regrouped with Hooper’s replacement Fraser McReight being dragged across the line for his first test attempt by storming Test debutant Jed Holloway. A penalty in the 62nd minute, awarded by the whistling Scottish referee Mike Adamson, gave the visitors two points.
Cooper’s replacement Reece Hodge then blasted a long-range penalty, while Argentina lock Matias Alemanno was shown a yellow card, for the Wallabies to take the lead, 27-26, for the first time in the game. They extended that into the 70th minute when hooker Folau Fainga’a, in his best performance in the gold jersey, grabbed the ball from the back of a maul and raided, with Hodge adding the extras.
The opening half was a frustrating stop-start affair with 10-3 penalties against the Wallabies. The Australians dominated possession and territory, but mistakes and poor discipline kept them from maximizing their chances.
Argentina, which is coached by former Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika, got off to the best possible start with the crossing of Pablo Matera in the sixth minute to take a 13-3 lead. The Wallabies countered via winger Jordan Petaia, but kept the home side in the game with penalties via sniper Emiliano Boffelli.
The Australians came to Adamson’s right side in the second half, as the Pumas’ own discipline fell apart as they incurred 11 penalties in the second half that made their case cruel.