An exasperated Dave Rennie has accused his side of being “bored” in attack as the Wallabies blew a golden opportunity to put one hand on the Tri Nations trophy by blowing a 15-6 lead against Argentina and had to settle for a draw in Newcastle on Saturday night instead.
On the back of five penalty goals to makeshift No.10 Reece Hodge, the Wallabies were in control and had a numerical advantage after Los Pumas hooker Julian Montoya was shown a yellow card early in the second half.
But the Wallabies choked up midway through the second half and lacked the game awareness that they played with in the first half to have their lead slowly cut away, as Pumas playmaker Nicolas Sanchez responded with three late penalties of his own to lock the game up.
Hodge had a late chance to win the game for the Wallabies, but he missed with his sixth effort with just minutes left in the game.
The 26-year-old, who led the Wallabies to victory over the All Blacks in Bledisloe IV a fortnight ago, said he felt like he had “let his country down” by missing.
But Rennie refused to lay blame at Hodge, believing the 10 had a “pretty strong performance” and instead lamented his side’s inability to stick to the game-plan of playing field position.
“I’m really frustrated, really disappointed,” Rennie told reporters following the draw.
“At 15-6 we had control of the game, we had chances to pin them in the corners. We had a fair bit of success from kicking; looks like we got bored of it. Played and overplayed and turned the ball over and brought them back into the game.
“Disappointing, we should have closed that out. We’ve really got ourselves to blame.”
In particular, Rennie took aim at his side’s failures of not seeing the space in the backfield and plugging the Argentinians deep in their own half.
“When Nic White kicked we were able to apply a lot of pressure. Reece put a bomb up at one stage which we went into the game and had a plan and got some success out of that. But we had a lot of opportunities from two or three phases to then drill a corner and they’ve got no-one there and we turn that into a foot race and apply a bit of pressure and maybe we get a set-piece down there,” Rennie said.
“It’s an area of our game that we’ve got to be better, we’ve put a lot of time into our kicking strategy and clearly it’s not instinctive all the time yet.”
Adding to the frustration, the Pumas never looked like scoring while the Wallabies had two tries disallowed by the TMO.
Twice in the first half the Wallabies should have scored.
Jordan Petaia acrobatically almost chased down a Hunter Paisami grubber close to the line but put a toe into touch as he reached down to plant the ball.
Later, Tom Banks’ pass to Marika Koroibete floated forward under pressure.
On both occasions, the Wallabies had set themselves up to score but weren’t accurate enough to deliver the skills under pressure.
Rennie said his side needed to make the most of the territory and field position.
“Yeah, we should have been ahead further,” Rennie said.
“That’s been an issue for us so far.
“We’ve got to be more clinical. Turn pressure into points.
“Really Argentina never looked like scoring all night.
“I think we defended well at times, but we’ve got to turn pressure into points. Frustrating for us all. Wisey’s (Scott Wisemantel) doing a fantastic job around our attack, but it’s one more phase and at times a ruck’s not a disaster we’ve just got to hang on and go an extra couples of phases and apply pressure.
“We just felt if we could score straight after half time we could probably blow the game out. They had made a lot of tackles, we felt they were fatiguing and just hanging in there but we didn’t put them out of it and it hurt us in the end.”
The draw doesn’t rule the Wallabies out from lifting the Tri Nations trophy, but had they won it would have meant they only need to beat the Pumas in western Sydney on December 5.
“Gee it’s a pretty even comp now, isn’t it” Rennie reflected.
“We had a chance to have a real stranglehold on that and go into the last game just requiring a win but we’ve left the door open, so obviously a big game between New Zealand and Argentina next week. We’ll have a pretty clear idea of what we’ve got to do in the last week.”
The draw meant the Wallabies once again failed to build on the momentum from the Bledisloe win and string consecutive games together. But Wallabies captain Michael Hooper didn’t think his side had lost the art of winning.
'“It’s a big statement,” Hooper responded.
“I think Dave summed it up with what we need to do to be better.
“Stick to our game-plan a little bit harder. Be a little bit more relentless on what we set out to do and adapt on the run. We didn’t know it was going to rain. We didn’t know it was going to be wet in the first half, even greasy with that pill. So how we could have capitalised on that, a lot of guys in the front line, so just sticking to our stuff harder.”