Sport Union Wallabies avoid wooden spoon with heroic last-half comeback against Argentina
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Wallabies avoid wooden spoon with heroic last-half comeback against Argentina

Michael Hooper crosses the try line before Australia's first-half slump - and their near-miraculous, record-setting revival. Photo: AP/Gonzalo Prados
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The Wallabies have produced the biggest comeback in Australian and Rugby Championship history to beat Argentina 45-34 and potentially save coach Michael Cheika’s skin.

But it may not be enough to avoid change to his coaching panel after a listless first half in Salta left them staring down the barrel of a total catastrophe – and Cheika at the end of his reign.

After promising all week to do their talking on the field on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT), Australia turned in an atrocious opening stanza to trail 31-7 at the break.

By that stage, it was already the biggest score they had conceded against Los Pumas.

A halftime bake from an angry Cheika seemed to do the trick, however, and the Wallabies emerged a different side.

“It’s not really for public airing,” Cheika said of his address in the sheds at Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena.

“But this game is personal, everything’s got to have personal meaning. The first half it wasn’t there.

“Once the lads got some meaning about what they wanted to do and some purpose, they played a heap better.”

Australia’s problematic defence suddenly stiffened and their misfiring attack somehow clicked, with Izack Rodda, Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty scoring tries inside the first 11 minutes of the second half to reduce the margin to three points.

Israel Falau thanks God for the astonishing comeback after adding another try to the Wallabies’ winning tally. Photo: AP/Jan Touzeau

Then David Pocock twisted through a mess of Los Pumas bodies in the 64th minute to put them in front for the first time at 35-34.

A cross-field bomb from Bernard Foley in the 66th minute set up Haylett-Petty for his second try before a Foley penalty ensured the tourists would escape with just their third win of the year.

Australia finished the match with 14 men after Tolu Latu was yellow-carded for striking Pumas replacement prop Santiago Garcia Botta in the face, seemingly unprovoked.

But while they also managed to avoid their maiden Rugby Championship wooden spoon, the fact it took 40 minutes for the Wallabies to start playing well under the circumstances should spur Rugby Australia to act in some way.

It was the worst start imaginable – five minutes into the contest and they were already 14-0 down, and the knives were out for Cheika.

Los Pumas crossed twice more and added a penalty before the break to lead by a whopping 24 points. In the second half, they managed to add only a penalty.

Skipper Michael Hooper said the dressing room after the match, albeit jovial, felt “confused” about how they could produce such contrasting performances.

Cheika couldn’t explain it, either.

“I’m not going to pretend I know why. I don’t think the players even know why,” he said.

“But what’s obvious is you cannot be in that situation.”

-AAP