Following a 41-26 victory for Australia over Argentina in their Rugby Championship opener, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Mendoza.
The top line
A Curate’s Egg of a match saw Australia finally overcome a doughty Pumas side in a match that the home side could have easily won bar some very substandard officiating.
Tries from Folau Fainga’a, Fraser McReight, Jordan Petaia and Len Ikitau, together with a penalty try were enough to see Australia home in a game where they went in without their two talisman, Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi, and lost their key playmaker Quade Cooper to a nasty ankle injury after 48 minutes.
In a match where errors abounded, defences failed and the referee’s pea was almost blown out of his whistle, Rob Valetini stood out as one of the Wallabies‘ star performers as they just about shaded the scoreline, despite some thrilling scores from Argentina.
This was a match settled by Wallaby belief and their ability to adapt to the officials. In the back-row Valetini was outstanding for his player of the match award, hitting 14 big carries for some 86 metres and adding in 17 powerhouse tackles for good measure.
Nic White was absolutely brilliant at scrum-half; too often overlooked when great half-backs are mentioned, the diminutive Wallaby and his kicking game offers so much to every team he plays in and once again, his contribution was quantum in sealing the result.
Matt Philip too added a lot of his customary power to the line-out effort and when he plays, so the Australian catch and drive goes up another gear completely. His partnership with Darcy Swain is both skilful and confrontational, and with Nick Frost adding impact off the bench, the Wallaby engine room looks to be firing on all cylinders.
The man in the middle
The basic measure of a referee’s performance is that he doesn’t have a quantum affect on the result of the game. Put simply, Mike Adamson was absolutely appalling at times, with some bizarre breakdown understanding and some huge errors of interpretation.
In the second half, Australia detached completely from an Argentinian driving maul. Adamson saw this as obstruction despite no player being bound or near the maul to actually be obstructed. A minute later and McReight trundles over for a try – seven points gifted by the official as a bare minimum, notwithstanding the excellent position the penalised maul had created for Australia.
In the 64th minute, Fainga’a’s line-out throw almost landed in his half-back’s hands, yet the hapless Scot waved play on, only to give Australia a three-point penalty kick a moment later.
Then, when Australia drove their maul to the line, Matias Alemanno, standing behind his own goal line when the maul was over, is penalised with a penalty try for collapsing followed by a yellow card which took Adamson’s match contribution to 17 points to the gold and green of Australia, notwithstanding the dominant positions he removed from Los Pumas when penalising them.
We could go on – Marcos Kremer at ruck time, Matera at ruck time on the goal line – there was a litany of errors from the man with the whistle. If Rassie Erasmus was Argentinian, he’d be busy producing a box set.
Argentina certainly produced the best two tries of the weekend. An opener inspired by the brilliant Julian Montoya that featured two divine in to out passes saw Matera crash over after six minutes.
Then, in the 73rd minute, a run from Juan Cruz Mallia saw Los Pumas go fully 100 metres end to end to see Juan Martin Gonzalez flying over after a powerful carry from the outstanding Matera. If the All Blacks had scored this, Twitter would have crashed in admiration – it was a try out of the highest attacking drawer and one that will be celebrated for a long time.
Emiliano Boffelli was almost flawless off tee – if there’s a better goal kicker in world rugby we’ve yet to see him and his style is so elegant and languid that you rather feel you’re being assassinated by a butterfly when he kicks. Another player of note was Francisco Gomez Kodela whose long arm bind and attacking nature paints a perfect scrummaging picture to most officials.
There’s no doubt Argentina have the raw ingredients and Saturday was a game they should have closed out but given some of the calls that went against them, they should have no shame in their loss.
Looking forward, Australia need to think about their starting front-row. Allan Alaalatoa and James Slipper struggled greatly early doors and it wasn’t until Taniela Tupou came on that they managed to get some go forward in the scrum.
Losing Kerevi really exposed their midfield where Hunter Paisami and Ikitau were almost anonymous until the last moments of the game. But given the stretched resources they have and taking into consideration the loss of Cooper mid match, they have a lot to be very proud of.
For Argentina it’s pretty simple. Maintain defensive solidity and don’t close off shoulders in midfield and that will simply transform their results. Their backline and passing were possibly the best of all four nations on show this weekend but at times, daft indiscipline cost them dearly. Some of the interplay between their back-row and their midfield was absolutely sublime at times – shore up their defence and sort out their discipline and they are a threat to any side they play.