Australia have blown a golden opportunity to win the Tri Nations title after playing out a tense 15-15 draw with Argentina in Newcastle.
The Wallabies relinquished a nine-point second-half lead as the Pumas fought back to move into pole position to claim the trophy.
Australia and Argentina joined New Zealand in a three-way tie on the competition table, but the unbeaten Pumas have two games to play compared to one each for the Wallabies and All Blacks.
Just as he did against New Zealand two weeks ago, Reece Hodge looked like he had booted the Wallabies to victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
But after nailing his first five penalty goals, the sharp-shooting flyhalf missed his chance to put the Pumas away three minutes from fulltime in a try-less and spiteful encounter.
Desperate to back up their historic win over the All Blacks last week, the Pumas used every trick in the book to try to unsettle the Wallabies, even some grubby hair-pulling from captain Pablo Matera.
Got to say finally enjoying watching the wallabies play rugby again. Smart innovative rugby with sting in defense.
— Quade Cooper (@QuadeCooper) November 21, 2020
In the end it almost worked, Nicolas Sanchez matching Hodge’s five penalties to earn the Pumas a share of the points.
The Wallabies dominated the first half in almost every department, yet only went to the break with a three-point advantage thanks to a 40th-minute penalty goal from Hodge.
They had the bulk of possession, double the carries, quadruple the metres gained, and four line breaks to one but were unable to convert the pressure on the Pumas into a substantial lead.
Jordan Petaia was brilliant at times and almost pulled off a spectacular somersaulting try only to put his foot on the dead-ball line before grounding the ball from a Hunter Paisami grubber kick.
Marika Koroibete also had a try over-ruled by the TMO because of a forward pass from fullback Tom Banks to the flying winger on the stroke of halftime.
The match erupted in the 38th minute when Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou and Pumas flyhalf Sanchez traded blows, but New Zealand referee Paul Williams opted against using the sin bin.
His cards stayed in his pocket once more moments later, Pumas hooker Julian Montoya avoiding a yellow card for blatantly killing the ball in a ruck as the Wallabies pounded their tryline in the run up to the break.
Montoya only received a warning, which he did not heed, leaving Williams with no choice but to dismiss Argentina’s No.2 for having his hands in the ruck shortly after halftime.
Hodge nailed the ensuing penalty attempt, then another in the 57th minute to give the Wallabies a 15-6 buffer and breathing space for the first time all night.
But it was not enough.
The Pumas play the All Blacks next week in Newcastle before meeting the Wallabies again in two weeks in Sydney in what could decide the tournament.