Australia and Argentina have drawn for the second time in two Tri-Nations tests, finishing deadlocked at 16-16 after Wallabies fullback Reece Hodge missed a potential match-winning penalty for the third time this season.
As he did in the 15-15 draw between the sides earlier in the competition, Hodge sent his kick wide to deprive Australia of what would have been a remarkable comeback victory after losing replacement Lukhan Salakaia-Loto to a red card on the hour mark.
A hard-fought battle played out on a rain-sodden pitch featured three yellow cards as well as the red with Australia’s attempts to convert territorial dominance into points foundering on the steel curtain of the Pumas defence.
With neither side able to secure a bonus point victory, let alone the huge winning margins they needed, New Zealand won the tournament, which replaced the Rugby Championship after the withdrawal of world champions South Africa.
“They’re a tough cookie to crack, the Argies,” said Australia captain Michael Hooper.
“We’ll build from that, we’re not happy with that performance. We weren’t able to get a win in our last game.”
Argentina’s rollercoaster ride of a tournament hit a low this week when historical racist social media posts were unearthed, costing the Pumas the services of their inspirational captain Pablo Matera and two other players for the match.
They appeared to have brushed aside the tumultuous events of the week, however, and looked on course to round out their campaign with a victory when a 34th minute Bautista Delguy try helped them to a 13-6 halftime lead.
The Pumas trundled a rolling maul for 40 metres before scrumhalf Felipe Ezcurra broke into open field and got the ball away to Delguy for the winger to weave his way to the line.
Hodge kept Australia in touch from the kicking tee but lock Salakaia-Loto looked to have stopped Australia’s comeback in its tracks when he smashed into the jaw of Santiago Grondona and was red-carded.
Dominic Miotti extended Argentina’s lead to seven points at 16-9 soon afterwards but numerical parity was restored when Lucas Paulos was shown a yellow card for collapsing a maul.
Australia immediately rolled another maul across the line with captain Hooper awarded the try to level up the scores in the 67th minute.
Twelve more minutes of attritional rugby had passed before a penalty was awarded to the home side and all eyes turned to Hodge.
The versatile back had watched a potential match-winner come back off the post from 50 metres in Australia’s first test of the season, a 16-16 draw with the All Blacks in Wellington.
He was to have no more luck against the Pumas in Newcastle two weeks ago from 40 metres and a shorter kick from a worse angle again proved beyond him on Saturday.
Australia ended up with three draws, one win and two losses in six tests this season, while the Pumas finished their remarkable tournament with their first win over the All Blacks, a loss to the New Zealanders last week and the two draws.
“It’s been beautiful, we had a really tough year with a very long quarantine so to play these games this year has been a really, really good thing for us,” said Ezcurra.