Australia bounce back from Hooper shock to defeat Pumas in Rugby Championship

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Mendoza (Argentina) (AFP) – Australia fought back from a half-time deficit to claim a bonus-point 41-26 win over Argentina in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The Wallabies trailed 19-10 at the break but battled back to shatter the Pumas’ hopes of a first win over Australia in four years.

Australia were rocked on the eve of the game when captain Michael Hooper pulled out to protect his mental well-being.

Veteran flanker Hooper flew home from Mendoza after telling his teammates he lacked the necessary “mindset” to play for his country, let alone lead them, in Saturday’s Test.

Prop James Slipper, a fellow Test centurion, took over as captain while Fraser McReight was promoted to replace Hooper at openside flanker.

Argentina lost every match in last season’s Rugby Championship and hadn’t beaten Australia since 2018.

However, buoyed by a recent home series win over Scotland, they were ahead within five minutes.

Santiago Carreras, in at fly-half in place of talisman Nicolas Sanchez, found Pablo Matera with a well-judged pass and the back-rower scored the opening try with Emiliano Boffelli kicking the extras.

Quade Cooper cut the deficit almost immediately with a penalty before Boffelli hit back with a Pumas penalty.

The winger added another three points as the Pumas stretched to 13-3 ahead inside just 15 minutes.

However, the Wallabies grabbed their first try when winger Jordan Petaia scored after the ball was worked wide from a maul.

Cooper kicked the conversion for 13-10 before Boffelli popped over his third penalty of the game.

Argentina forwards continued to dominate and Boffelli’s deadly accuracy with the boot resulted in another successful penalty for a 19-10 lead at the interval.

The influential Cooper’s night came to a premature end when the fly-half picked up an ankle injury and was replaced by Reece Hodge within the first five minutes of the second period.

Moments later, the Wallabies were back in the game when McReight barreled over the line for a 50th-minute try at the end of a rolling maul.

Hodge kicked the conversion for 19-17.

The Pumas hit back five minutes later when flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez went over in the corner after the ball had been moved from inside his own half.

Boffelli again was on target with the conversion for a 26-17 lead.

In a dizzying spell of play, the Wallabies were awarded a penalty try with Argentina lock Matias Alemanno sin-binned.

With 65 minutes on the clock, Hodge then hit a long range penalty as Australia edged ahead for the first time at 27-26.

Hooker Folau Fainga’a piled on the misery for the weary Pumas by peeling off the back of a maul to score and stretch the lead to 34-26.

Boffelli failed with the boot for the first time with a 50-meter penalty attempt.

Center Len Ikitau then made sure of the bonus point when he scored Australia’s fourth try in the last minute.

The two sides meet again next week in San Juan.

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