The Wallabies have opened their Rugby Championship campaign with a rousing 41-26 victory over Argentina, dedicating the win to absent skipper Michael Hooper.
Center Len Ikitau crossed for their fifth try five minutes after full-time in Mendoza to snare a bonus point as the Wallabies rallied from a 19-10 halftime deficit and piled on 31 points after the break.
But the win looked to have come at a cost with playmaker Quade Cooper assisted from the field with an apparent ankle injury.
The Australians entered the Test without talismanic 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 real proud moment for me and also the team because we really wanted to put in an effort that our fans could be proud of and also our captain Hoops [Hoops],” Slipper said in a post-match interview. “We were thinking about him all day and playing for him.”
The Wallabies lost another of their most experienced players when playmaker Cooper slipped on the turf while in attack seven minutes into the second half. The 34-year-old had already missed the losing England series with a calf injury but appeared to grasp at his ankle in obvious pain, and was later seen in a moon-boot.
But the Wallabies regrouped with Hooper’s replacement Fraser McReight dragged across the line for his first Test try by barn-storming Test debutant Jed Holloway. A penalty try in the 62nd minute awarded by whistle-happy Scottish referee Mike Adamson put the visitors to within two points.
Cooper’s replacement Reece Hodge then banged over a long-range penalty while Argentina lock Matias Alemanno was yellow-carded, for the Wallabies to take the lead, 27-26, for the first time in the match. They extended that in the 70th minute when hooker Folau Fainga’a, in his best performance in the gold jersey, picked up the ball off the back of a maul and charged over, with Hodge adding the extras.
The opening half was a frustrating stop-start affair with a 10-3 penalty count against the Wallabies. The Australians dominated possession and territory but errors and poor discipline stopped them from maximizing their opportunities.
Argentina, who are coached by former Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika, got off to their best possible start with Pablo Matera crossing in the sixth minute and got out to a 13-3 lead. The Wallabies countered through winger Jordan Petaia but kept the home side in the game with penalties through sharp-shooter Emiliano Boffelli.
The Australians got on the right side of Adamson in the second half, while the Pumas own discipline fell apart as they incurred 11 second-half penalties which cruelled their cause.