Australia's Reece Hodge attempts a penalty goal during their Tri-Nations rugby union match against Argentina in Newcastle, Australia, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
rugby union

Wallabies and Pumas play out 15-all draw in Tri Nations

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By KEIRAN SMITH

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez scored all of Argentina’s points for the second successive test and the Pumas' remarkable Tri Nations continued with a 15-all draw against Australia at Newcastle on Saturday.

A week after scoring all of Argentina’s 25 points in its maiden test victory over New Zealand, Sanchez kicked five penalties, including two from the halfway line in the rain, to earn the Pumas what looked an improbable draw after it was 15-6 down inside the last 15 minutes.

Reece Hodge also kicked five penalties for Australia but missed a shot in the final minutes which would have won the test for the Wallabies and given it control of the Tri Nations.

“We had a chance to take a real stranglehold on it and go into the last game just requiring a win but we left the door open,” Australia coach Dave Rennie said. “Obviously a big game between New Zealand and Argentina next week and we’ll have a pretty clear idea what we have to do in the last week.”

Instead, both Australia and Argentina join New Zealand on six points in the standings, with the All Blacks retaining the lead on points differential. Argentina still has two matches remaining, keeping its hopes of a first Tri Nations title very much alive despite coach Mario Ledesma's attempts to keep expectations down.

“The first thing we should do is recover, because obviously we haven't played in a long while and going back-to-back has been really hard, especially with the same players," Ledesma said. "We have a lot of niggles in that changing room, the main thing is to recover and then see where we go from here.”

Hodge opened the scoring with a fourth-minute penalty goal before Argentina responded with two penalties of its own through last week’s hero against New Zealand, Sanchez.

In a tight first-half, chances for the Wallabies proved elusive as Argentina’s defensive pressure caused Australia to relinquish possession too regularly in good attacking areas to build concerted pressure on the Pumas.

Australia thought it had the opening try of the match when a clever grubber kick by Hunter Paisami was acrobatically grounded in the in-goal area by Jordan Petaia, but the television referee found that the Wallabies center had his foot on the line as he placed the ball down.

Two more Hodge penalty goals gave the hosts a 9-6 lead into the break but the three-point margin didn't reflect Australia's dominance of territory and possession in the first-half.

“We should have been in front further (at half-time)”, Rennie said. “We've got to be more clinical. I think we defended well at times, but we've got to turn pressure into points.”

Australia stretched its lead to 15-6 with another two Hodge penalties, and with Argentina hooker Julian Montoya yellow carded for a ruck infringement it appeared the Wallabies would break open the contest through its impressive center pairing of Paisami and Petaia.

But the advantage never materialized and Argentina found a way back through three successive penalties from Sanchez, including two towering attempts into the wind and rain from the halfway line, as momentum swung to the Pumas, to the delight of a small but vocal contingent of Argentine supporters among the crowd of 11,749.

“We needed to put a little bit of scoreboard pressure,” Ledesma said. “We knew that if we score some points they would get nervous because the difference should have been more than that. And it showed from that penalty we got to make it 15-9 and the momentum, I think. shifted.”

Hodge, though, still had the chance to win it for the Wallabies but his 78th-minute penalty shot sailed to the right of the post and continued the Wallabies' dismal record at Newcastle, which includes a shock loss to Scotland in 2012.

“It's disappointing, we should have closed it out,” Rennie said. “We've only got ourselves to blame.”

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