Rugby-Australia maul Argentina with big win in Mendoza

(Reuters) - Australia rallied in the final quarter to secure a 41-26 victory over Argentina in their Rugby Championship opener in Mendoza on Saturday, but the win may have come at some cost as flyhalf Quade Cooper limped off early in the second period.

Argentina led 19-10 at halftime but Australia were much the better side in the second half as they got their driving maul going and scored tries through wing Jordan Petaia, loose-forward Fraser McReight, hooker Folau Fainga’a and centre Len Ikitau, to go with a penalty try.

As has been the case so often in the past, Argentina were let down by their discipline as they gave away a raft of penalties in the second period having managed tries through loose-forwards Pablo Matera and Juan Martin Gonzalez.

The welcome win comes at the end of a difficult 24 hours for coach Dave Rennie’s side, who lost captain Michael Hooper on Friday when the latter opted to return home to Australia, suggesting he was not in the right frame of mind to play the game.

"It was tough. I felt like most of the game we were behind," stand-in captain James Slipper said. "It’s a real proud moment for me and for the team, because we really wanted to put in an effort that our fans could be proud of, but also that our captain, Hoops, could be proud of.

"We were thinking about him all day and we were playing for him tonight."

Concerning Rennie now will be the severity of the injury to the mercurial Cooper, who was seen wearing a moon boot on the sidelines after he twisted his ankle early in the second half and had to be helped from the field.

He will be a major doubt for the second clash between the teams in San Juan on Aug. 13, where Australia will be confident of another win after identifying a weakness in the Argentine defence with their driving maul, which they used with devastating effect.

The game started well enough for the home side as Matera crossed for a well-worked try.

The teams traded penalties after that, before Australia coasted through the home defence as a series of simple passes allowed Petaia to beat one defender and score.

Despite the fact that they trailed by nine points at the break, Australia looked dangerous each time they took the ball through the phases and after turning down an easy three points, scored a second try with a maul from an attacking lineout as Hooper’s replacement McReight crossed.

Argentina’s chaotic style saw them hit back with a brilliant score as they launched a counter-attack from their own 22 that was finished by Gonzalez.

The see-saw nature of the contest continued as Australia were awarded a penalty try when Argentina illegally tried to stop a driving maul and lock Matias Alemanno was yellow carded to compound their misery.

That proved the turning point and the visitors hit the front for the first time in the game on 65 minutes as Argentina continued to give away cheap penalties and Reece Hodge made the score 27-26 to Australia.

The win was sealed with another try from a driving maul for Fainga’a and a score after the hooter by Ikitau.

(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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