Australia put in a resolute and clinical performance against a spirited Argentinean team to book their place in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand with a 29-15 win at Twickenham on Sunday.
It took a sensational run by Drew Mitchell to give his fellow winger Adam Ashley-Cooper his hat-trick try to seal the game and kill off a passionate Argentinean uprising that threatened to storm back into the game.
It means the final will be contested between the two best sides in the tournament, and what a final it promises to be, with the world’s top two sides gunning it out for the World Cup. Perhaps it is unfair to previous finalists, but this is possibly the first time the top two sides in the world have faced each other since 1995.
South Africa, so close on Saturday night, will face Los Pumas in a game that nobody, except for the organisers, really wants to see in the Bronze medal match.
On the night though, the Wallabies were all value for their win and took everything Argentina threw at them with ease, but managed to find an answer time and again to keep the Pumas from crossing their line.
But Argentina are hardly a side that should be disappointed. While the loss will be remembered, they played exceptionally in the 80 minutes but suffered from a lack of finishing as they couldn’t penetrate Australia’s rock defence.
Key among that defensive effort was flankers Scott Fardy and David Pocock, with the former putting in several big hits and Pocock the master of the steal, disrupting the Argentinean breakdown and stealing several balls in crucial moments when the Pumas were on attack.
Los Pumas played with an unbelievable amount of passion and pride, run from just about everywhere on the field and gave it their all, underlining the fact that this is not Los Pumas of old, but have taken some real massive steps forward in their game since joining the Sanzar family.
But in their enthusiasm they made mistakes and the Australians relied on clinical defence and pressure to allow the Pumas to do most of the play, yet come out really wrong on the scoreboard.
You can’t fault the Aussies for their tactics, they were the right ones in the situation and they scored when it mattered, with four tries to zero telling a story about finishing that nobody in South America would want to hear.
The absorbed it all, and they look certain to give the All Blacks a good run in the final next week.
For Argentina though, the start they made and the decisions they made in the opening minute put them firmly on the back foot as Australia capitalised with two early tries to make the scoreboard look lopsided.
It started when the Pumas tried to run out of their own half and Nicolas Sanchez threw an inside ball into the hands of Rob Simmons, who galloped his way to the tryline to make it 7-0 after little more than a minute.
Still the Pumas didn’t stop their attack, and while you can admire them for their enterprise, it was madness to play so much rugby inside your own half and ultimately it cost them.
After Sanchez got them on the board with a penalty, the madness cost them further on the 10 minute mark, with Martin Landajo trying desperately to take a quick tap, but only succeeding in knocking it on and into the Australian hands. Recycled ball and Juan Imhoff who came in off his wing at the wrong moment left a gaping hole the side of Kimberley for him to run into and score the second try.
After 11 minutes the scoreline of 14-3 made it difficult for the Pumas as they had to play catch-up, but they started to open the game up and found holes in the defence, with the Wallabies scrambling superbly to make sure it didn’t cost them more than a penalty every time.
But then two moments came to define the opening half – Will Genia tackled Landajo as he took another quick tap and was clearly not 10 metres back. Wayne Barnes awarded a penalty but in the context it could easily have been a yellow.
Then Barnes invoked the ire of the South American section of the crowd as a TMO intervention and several replays saw him yellow card Thomas Lavanini for a clumsy tackle that missed and hit Israel Folau with his shoulder. While TMO Ben Skeen tried to suggest it wasn’t so bad, Barnes sent Lavanini off in a ridiculous over-reaction to a simple decision. A penalty yes, but to sin bin a player for a poor tackle like that just underlines how crucial these calls are at this level.
The 10 minutes Argentina was down to 14 men cost them dearly as pressure mounted and eventually the overlap was so obvious that Ashley-Cooper simply had to fall over in the right corner.
At the same point they lost Agustin Creevy, who was clearly struggling with injury, and Imhoff after an earlier clash with Folau’s knee as he tackled Ashley-Cooper.
Still they fought on, and Sanchez’ boot kept them in touch, turning 19-9 at the break.
Two more penalties in the second half to one by Foley kept the Pumas close enough to have hope, and a score away from the Wallabies.
But when Mitchell went blind and received the perfect pass from Genia, he weaved his way into a gap, jinked right past two more defenders, left to beat another and then veered right to take two more out of the game. As he was eventually tackled close to the line, the pass flew off to Ashley-Cooper, who went over to seal the game much to the delight of his teammates.
Argentina are no longer the small-fry of world rugby. They are genuine contenders and one of the top four teams in the world.
The Boks certainly won’t have an easy game on Friday night.
ARGENTINA – Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (4)
AUSTRALIA – tries: Rob Simmons, Adam Ashley-Cooper (3). Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalty: Foley