Australia rallied for the second straight week in the Rugby Championship to beat Argentina 23-19 and move into second place behind New Zealand, which extended its lead with a 21-11 win against South Africa.
In the first rugby Test to be played on the Gold Coast, tournament newcomer Argentina led 19-6 with 23 minutes left last night before inside center Pat McCabe and winger Digby Ioane scored converted tries for Australia. Replacement back Kurtley Beale added a last-minute penalty.
“It was a great deal of courage and commitment to come back with 20 minutes left to pull that back and finish so strongly,” Australia captain Nathan Sharpe said in an interview with Fox Sports. “We’re very happy with the resolve we showed. We’ve done a couple of tough weeks in chasing teams down.”
The Wallabies, who also fought back to beat the Springboks last week, avoided a first home loss to Argentina since 1983 to leapfrog South Africa in the southern hemisphere championship standings after four rounds. The All Blacks lead with 16 points and will secure the inaugural title by winning either of its remaining games in Argentina or South Africa.
Full-back Israel Dagg and replacement scrum-half Aaron Smith scored tries and Aaron Cruden kicked three penalties and a conversion for top-ranked New Zealand in Dunedin. Winger Bryan Habana went over for South Africa’s only try and Morne Steyn and Johan Goosen added penalties for the Springboks, who missed seven other shots at goal.
“Normally those kickers will put them over,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview. “We’re thankful for that. I was proud of the way the guys held their composure, it was a good old ding-dong.”
Australia scored the final 17 points at Skilled Park after Argentina plundered two tries in two minutes from a charge-down and chase by replacement flanker Tomas Leonardi and a 70-meter counterattack that was finished off by fellow back-rower Julio Farias Cabello. Pumas fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, who booted two first-half penalties, missed both conversions, though added a 57th-minute penalty to make it 19-6.
McCabe crashed over with an angled run on the hour mark and Ioane was put into space on the wing nine minutes later. Berrick Barnes converted both tries to make it 21-19 before Beale, on as a replacement for the injured Dom Shipperley, extended the margin of victory with a 38-meter kick in the final minute.
“It was close, we are very disappointed,” said Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, whose team remains winless. “We need to try learn how to close out these games. These type of teams, they don’t stop until the last minute.”
In Dunedin, the All Blacks led 5-3 at the break after scoring the only try of the first half in the 19th minute when forwards Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read worked the ball via quick off-loads to Dagg, who finished in the corner.
South Africa went 8-5 up nine minutes into the second half when Habana chipped over the last defender and re-gathered his kick to score in the corner. Steyn missed the conversion and Cruden’s penalty made it 8-8 it four minutes later.
Smith, who came on as a halftime substitute after being dropped from the starting lineup for a breach of team protocol, scooted through the Springboks’ defense in the 62nd minute to break the tie with an opportunist try that Cruden converted.
South Africa replacement fly-half Goosen landed his team’s second successful kick at goal from nine attempts with 11 minutes left. Cruden then added two penalties in the final six minutes to seal the victory.
“Our goal kicking wasn’t great tonight,” Springboks captain Jean de Villiers told Fox Sports. “We had the opportunities, but at this level you can’t make that many mistakes and not capitalize on your opportunities and then think you’re gonna to win the game.”
The fifth of six rounds is scheduled for Sept. 29, when Argentina hosts New Zealand in La Plata and Australia takes on South Africa in Pretoria.