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Andrew Kellaway bags hat-trick as Wallabies keep Los Pumas winless

By Alex McLeod

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The Wallabies have closed out their Rugby Championship campaign with a fourth straight victory after picking up a 32-17 win over Los Pumas on the Gold Coast.

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The win signifies an impressive turnaround in fortunes for the Australians after their winless Bledisloe Cup series against the All Blacks, which set them back early in the opening two rounds of the Rugby Championship.

However, back-to-back wins over the Springboks followed by two straight wins over Argentina, including Saturday’s victory, means the Wallabies have finished the tournament in second place with the Mandela Challenge Plate and Puma Trophy locked away for the summer.

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Jordie Barrett gave the All Blacks’ backfield confidence against the Springboks | Healthspan Elite Performer of the Week
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Jordie Barrett gave the All Blacks’ backfield confidence against the Springboks | Healthspan Elite Performer of the Week

Few would have predicted such a rise for a team that was left reeling following their 2019 World Cup quarter-final exit when head coach Dave Rennie came into the role ahead of last year’s test season.

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted Rennie’s debut season in charge of the team, and that showed in their results as they registered just one win and two draws from six outings against the All Blacks and Los Pumas.

A series win over France in July indicated the Wallabies were progressing in the right direction, but the fact Les Bleus were fielding a vastly under-strength side meant Australia had to back their success up with further victories over their SANZAAR rivals.

Their quest to prove themselves as a legitimate side in the test arena took a hit when they were swept by the All Blacks, with their last two defeats in Auckland and Perth coming in concerning fashion as the Kiwis ran up hefty scores.

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That forced Rennie to change his tune, though, and the reimplementation of foreign-based stars Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi proved crucial in their revival against the Springboks and Los Pumas.

Both players starred in their shock victories over South Africa, the reigning world champions, before continuing their rich vein of form against Los Pumas, firstly in Townsville last week, and then again this weekend.

Their most recent win over the Argentines seemed difficult to achieve in the opening stages of the contest at Cbus Super Stadium, with the South Americans confining Australia to just three points up for almost the first half an hour.

That was until Los Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini was sent to the sin bin for taking Izack Rodda out off the ball during a lineout lift, which enabled the Wallabies to strike from the follow-up set piece via hooker Folau Fainga’a from the back of a rolling maul.

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That initial try seemed to give the Australians confidence, which was reflected six minutes later when Fainga’a’s deft short ball to Rob Valetini set the blockbusting No 8 away for a clean break deep inside enemy territory.

Andrew Kellaway’s superb support play then made it an easy two-on-one situation against Argentine fullback Juan Cruz Mallia, allowing the 25-year-old wing to score his sixth try in just his ninth test.

His try-scoring record reached a new level in the second half as he took advantage of his side’s strong momentum in the opposition’s half to beat two defenders through pure determination to scramble over for his second of the evening in the 54th minute.

Then, just four minutes later, Kellaway latched onto a stunning flick pass by midfielder Len Ikitau to cap off a cracking backline move from an attacking lineout to complete his first-ever test hat-trick.

That trio of tries sandwiched Kerevi’s try early in the second half in a piece of play when he and Cooper again vindicated Rennie’s decision to recall them as they combined playmaking class with finishing prowess to dot down three minutes after the half-time break.

Cooper’s direction and influence as the team’s pivot made up for his lacklustre night off the kicking tee – he landed only three goals from seven attempts – before he was replaced midway through the second half by James O’Connor.

O’Connor was joined by returning Wallabies loose forward Sean McMahon in making an appearance of the pine, with the latter’s cameo a high-profile one after his four-year absence from the team following his move to Japanese club rugby in 2017.

Likewise, plenty of eyes were on 38-year-old replacement prop Greg Holmes, who last played for the Wallabies in 2016, when he entered the fray in the 67th minute to become the oldest player to play for Australia since World War II.

All those landmarks served as reasons for celebration for the Wallabies, who now brimming with optimism and confidence ahead of their end-of-year tour of Japan, Scotland, England and Wales over the next month-and-a-half.

Meanwhile, Argentina, whose two tries came via debutant replacement prop Thomas Gallo, will be pleased their winless campaign from hell – featuring endless travel, quarantining, “disrespectful” photos and tournament breaches by players and staff –  has finally reached an end.

What awaits them next is a three-test tour of France, Italy and Ireland, which means more time on the road, thus more quarantining and time away from friends, family and home.

Credit must be given to them, though, for their persistence and fortitude – portrayed in their never-say-die attitude to try and score a consolation try in the dying stages of the contest with Michael Hooper in the sin bin – throughout this year’s Rugby Championship.

One can only hope some kind of normality resumes next year to give them the best chance of achieving their landmark successes of 2020.

Wallabies 32 (Tries to Folau Fainga’a, Andrew Kellaway (3), Samu Kerevi; 2 conversions and penalty to Quade Cooper)

Los Pumas 17 (Tries to Thomas Gallo (2); 2 conversions and penalty to Emiliano Boffelli)

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Andrew Kellaway bags hat-trick as Wallabies keep Los Pumas winless

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