Whether or not the Wallabies have the quality to win next year’s Rugby World Cup remains to be seen.
But the character of this Australian side cannot be questioned after a stirring 41-26 comeback win over Argentina to open the Rugby Championship on Sunday.
Playing without captain Michael Hooper and star centre Samu Kerevi, Australia trailed 13-3, 19-10 and 26-17 at different times throughout the match and also lost five-eighth Quade Cooper to a ruptured Achilles in the second half.
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Cooper goes down with worrying injury
Debutant Jed Holloway’s teary post-game interview summed up a rollercoaster week in Mendoza as he proudly shared his first Test cap with childhood chum Matt Gibbon.
“I knew this was going to happen,” Holloway said as the emotion hit on Stan Sport after an impressive performance at blindside flanker.
Holloway was cut by the Waratahs in 2020 but the now 29-year-old is in the form of his life after sharpening his training habits and settling down with a young family.
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Jed Holloway chats to Stan Sport after the win over Argentina. (Stan)
Rebels prop and former sparky Gibbon also has an inspirational backstory.
Until he was 10, Gibbon and brother Alex lived in Alstonville, NSW, with their parents who both have severe mental disabilities.
Gibbon then moved to live on his grandfather’s farm – a man he told Stan Sport was “the reason I’m playing rugby.”
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James Slipper of Australia and teammates celebrate with the trophy. (Getty)
His granddad died during the week but Gibbon decided to play on, adding even more emotion to a dramatic week.
There was a lovely post-game moment as stand-in skipper James Slipper – a Test centurion who has also publicly battled demons – dedicated the victory to Hooper, who has returned to Australia for personal reasons.
“It was tough, most of the game we were behind so it’s a real proud moment for me and the team,” Slipper said.
James Slipper of Australia receives a trophy at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas. (Getty)
“We wanted to put in a performance that the fans but also our captain, Hoops, would be proud of. I think we did that tonight.”
The same teams will square off again in San Juan in round two next weekend.
Len Ikitau scored an 86th minute try to secure a bonus point for Australia after some wild passages of play and a long look from the TMO.
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“That’s an unfathomable scoreline, a real line in the sand moment,” Morgan Turinui said on Stan Sport.
“19-10 down, you lose your playmaker, the crucial cog in everything you do, you don’t win many Test matches like that. I’m flabbergasted by that score.”
The Wallabies trailed until the 65th minute and led for the first time when replacement five-eighth Reece Hodge kicked a penalty for a 27-26 advantage while Argentina lock Matias Alemanno was in the sin bin.
His absence helped propel the Wallabies comeback as they racked up the last 24 points.
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The Australian pack took hold of a scrappy match by retaining the ball and turning the pressure on the Pumas, whose discipline fell apart.
After conceding only three penalties in the first half, Argentina gave away 11 in the second and any chance of regaining momentum.
Over the last quarter, Alemanno conceded a penalty try and yellow card, Hodge kicked his penalty and converted tries by Folau Fainga’a and Ikitau.
Jordan Petaia of Australia scores a try. (Getty)
Australia’s superb record against the Pumas – unbeaten since 2018 and unbeaten in Argentina since 2014 – was in doubt as they also played without first-choice hooker Dave Porecki, who was concussed.
They were already without their best back, Samu Kerevi, then playmaker Cooper limped off in the second half with an apparent recurrence of the calf injury which sidelined him from the England series last month.
But their replacements all shone, notably flanker Fraser McReight, who capped his first Test start with a try.
Darcy Swain and Michael Hooper of Australia smile after winning. (Getty)
“It was different, I got the tap on the shoulder Friday morning,” McReight said.
“The circumstances are strange (with Hooper leaving) but I’m super happy we were able to claw back and get the win. We were probably too ill-disciplined in the first half.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was understandably thrilled with his side’s composure.
“We’ve had a reasonable run of injuries haven’t we?” Rennie deadpanned.
“It’s a start, we’ve got more in us but really happy with the character and courage. They stood up. Jed had a big defensive day so he’ll be rapt to have one under his belt.”
Australia 41 (Jordan Petaia, Fraser McReight, Folau Fainga’a, Len Ikitau tries; penalty try; Quade Cooper conversion, penalty, Reece Hodge 3 conversions, penalty) Argentina 26 (Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Gonzalez tries; Emiliano Boffelli 2 conversions, 4 penalties). HT: 10-19
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