Australia into Rugby World Cup final, posts 4 tries v Pumas

ABS-CBN Sports on Oct 26, 2015 10:33 AM
Australia into Rugby World Cup final, posts 4 tries v Pumas
Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper scores a try during the Rugby World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) — With a resurgent Argentina piling pressure on, it took an incisive Drew Mitchell moment to regain control for Australia and set up a Rugby World Cup final against archrival New Zealand.

The veteran winger burst down the left touchline from behind halfway, before stepping inside and crabbing his way across field to beat five defenders and release to the right, where Adam Ashley-Cooper picked up the pass on the second bounce and crossed untouched in the 72nd minute to complete his hat trick of tries.

The Australians won Sunday's semifinal 29-15, scoring four tries to nil, but it was the 40-minute break between the last two while Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez consistently slotted penalty goals that escalated tension into the last 10 minutes.

The win set up a decider that trans-Tasman organizers of the first World Cup had in mind in 1987, but didn't eventuate for eight editions.

Australia and New Zealand have each won the World Cup twice — the All Blacks in '87 and last time around in 2011, each time on home soil, and the Wallabies won in 1991 and '99, both previous times the tournament has been staged in Britain.

The much-anticipated exhibition of running rugby between the reinvigorated Wallabies and the Pumas lasted a half hour or so before both teams settled primarily into a percentages game, kicking for territory and sweating on errors triggered from brutal defense. The Australians crossed for tries in the second, 10th, and 32nd minutes until the game plans and momentum changed.

"I've been brought up with tries — that's it. Attacking footy," Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said. "It can leave you open on the counter-punch sometimes ... (but) I think that's how Australians want us to play."

Cheika took over a Wallabies team in disarray a year ago, and immediately lost three of the four tests on a European tour. Since then, they've only lost one test — to New Zealand. But that was a week after clinching the Rugby Championship title with a win over the All Blacks in Sydney.

"The guys are playing for each other. They want to play for Australia, they're committed," Cheika said. "It hasn't always been perfect, but in rugby that's the basis."

The Pumas tried early to play with the same endeavor and panache that earned them a 43-20 win over Six Nations champion Ireland in the quarterfinals last week, but it backfired to start with.

Lock Rob Simmons intercepted a Sanchez inside ball and sprinted 30 meters to score near the posts after 68 seconds, the fastest try of the tournament. The Pumas persisted with the attacking strategy, but simple turnovers cost them repeatedly as David Pocock and Michael Hooper poached turnover ball.

Stung after last week's last-minute 35-34 win over Scotland, the Wallabies were more controlled but still expansive in attack when they could be, leading to 113-test winger Ashley-Cooper's diving tries into the left corner in the 10th minute and the right in the 32nd — both from sprinting onto long, floating cut-out passes from flyhalf Bernard Foley and center Matt Giteau.

Yet the Australians led only 19-9 at halftime, still under pressure at the scrum, as expected, and from Sanchez. The Argentines narrowly missed a try that could have swung momentum in first-half injury time, when Sanchez made a line break and unloaded to Hernandez. But the back-of-the-hand flick pass from Hernandez went to ground in the right corner.

The Pumas twice reduced the margin to seven points as the kickers traded goals, making it 22-15 with eight minutes remaining when Ashley-Cooper crossed for his third, and moved to joint fifth on the all-time World Cup list with 11.

Argentina had some serious setbacks in the first half. Flying winger Juan Imhoff staggered off the field after a head knock, lock Tomas Lavanini was sin-binned for a no-arms shoulder charge on Israel Folau, and skipper Agustin Creevy succumbing to the leg injury that threatened to keep him out of the semifinal.

The Pumas reverted to the tighter play they're famous for, with judicious kicking, and banking points from the powerful scrum earning penalties.

Still, even with Diego Maradona in the 80,025-strong crowd, which heavily backed the Pumas with football-style chants of "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Pu-mas, Pu-mas," Argentina was unable to break through to reach its first Rugby World Cup final. The Pumas will play South Africa in the third-place match, with a chance to equal their finish in the 2007.

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade, who was in tears after the match, said the Pumas had no regrets after doing their country proud.

"If we played again, we'd follow the same plan," Hourcade said. "I hope the legacy we leave is the way we played the game."

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