Dave Rennie said on Thursday he wanted a “quality performance” to round out the Test year. For the second straight Test he didn’t get it, as the Wallabies incredibly drew with the Pumas 16-16 at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta.
The draw – the Wallabies’ third in six Tests in 2020 – came a fortnight after they were held to a 15-15 tryless result in Newcastle, which ultimately killed off their hopes of winning some precious silverware and saw the All Blacks claim the Tri Nations trophy.
Reece Hodge had the chance to win the match late for the Wallabies after they were awarded a penalty with two minutes left, but for the third time in 2020 he missed.
But as former Wallabies captain George Gregan said in commentary for Fox Sports, “The kickers win you games, they don’t lose you games. The Wallabies had many opportunities in that last 10-15 minutes to potentially set-up for a field goal and not rely upon the kicker.”
Indeed they did, but as was the case a fortnight ago on another wet evening in the Hunter region the Wallabies simply couldn’t do the basics right.
All evening they coughed up the ball and their discipline killed them.
In the end, the Wallabies would be thankful to come away with a draw after replacement forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto was sent off midway through the second half for a clumsy and reckless high tackle.
It wasn’t until Michael Hooper crashed over from a driving maul and Hodge landed a tough conversion that the Wallabies got back on track to level the scores to set up a tense finish.
Both sides had chances to win the match at the death, but it finished in comical fashion as referee Angus Gardner eventually blew full-time following a series of knock-ons in the wet.
Rennie, who was fuming following his side's failure to close out the result a fortnight ago in Newcastle, said the feeling was brighter given they trailed for much of the game.
"What was a draw paying today? A $1.50 maybe," he quipped.
"It feels a little bit different to the draw a couple of weeks ago mainly because we found ourselves down on the scoreboard by 10 at one stage and by seven when we got a red card, so the boys did show a lot of character to fight their way back into that."
Ultimately, however, the first-year Test coach said the Wallabies would be judged on winning and to that extent they hadn't achieved what they set out to.
"It's something we've talked a lot about, we've got to turn pressure into points," Rennie said.
"Having said that, they're a phenomenal defensive side and individually they tackle really well. We had our opportunities didn't we and they grabbed theirs as soon as they got them.
"We're a work in progress. We're good men who have worked hard and come together well, but, as I've said, we need to see that reflected in performance.
"There's no lack of heart and no lack of effort, but we've got to be way more clinical. Discipline was disappointing tonight and we made some dumb errors.
"We won one out of six, if you look at it from that perspective. It's disappointing, but I guess we've got an understanding of where we're at, the shifts we need to make and I look forward to seeing how these boys develop and apply pressure to us through Super Rugby."
The result meant the Wallabies finished with their most draws in a calendar year, eclipsing the two draws they played out against the Springboks in 2017.
More history was created in the moments before kick-off too, as Olivia Fox performed two outstanding renditions of Advance Australia Fair, including the first in Eora language.
The Wallabies dominated possession and territory in the opening quarter of the match but had very little to show for it. They weren't helped either by a number of spilt balls and poor kicks from Jordan Petaia, who struggled for space and confidence.
It wasn't until Marcos Kremer was yellow carded for high contact at the breakdown that the Wallabies eventually decided to take the points on offer, as Hooper tossed the ball to Hodge who banged over the opening points in the 15th minute.
But their early lead lasted just two minutes as Nicolas Sanchez slotted a penalty from halfway to level up the score.
There was fears that Hooper would be shown a red card in the 26th minute as the Wallabies skipper was also pinged by the TMO for high contact at the breakdown.
Hooper charged in to clear out Sanchez, but made direct contact with the No.10's head with his shoulder despite attempting to go low and using his arms.
With Sanchez off the field, replacement playmaker Domingo Miotti slotted a penalty to give the Pumas a 6-3 lead.
That lead became 10 soon after as halfback Felipe Ezcurra superbly found the Wallabies wanting on the blindside following a rolling maul, as he turned Marika Koroibete inside-out and hit Bautista Delguy who palmed away Hunter Paisami to score.
The try sent the Pumas' passionate fans into a frenzy.
You could have been forgiven for thinking that the match was being played in Buenos Aires such was the noise that was echoing throughout the stadium by the South Americans.
Hodge landed a late penalty to narrow the lead to seven points at half-time, but not for the first time you had an uneasy feeling that this match was going to go down to the wire.
Another Hodge penalty in the 50th minute narrowed the margin to four points, but Salakaia-Loto's high shot allowed the Pumas to restore their converted try lead.
Despite the best efforts of Taniela Tupou, who was exceptional coming off the bench at both the set-piece and in the carry, the Wallabies couldn't quite do enough to win it at the death.
"Let's not kid ourselves, we're extremely disappointed with that. Finishing the year like that, 2020 has not been a great year," former Wallaby Justin Harrison said on Fox Sports.
"We've seen some development of these players. We've seen some principles of play. We saw an Argentinian side come here and perform well above the levels we expected them to. We know that there are some players in this group of Wallabies that have achieved some sporadic high-performance, but we just want to see some more consistency and decision-making inside those high pressure moments."
Hooper, who will head to Japan for a brief stint before returning to Australia before the Wallabies' series against France next July, cut a frustrated figure.
"It's a hollow feeling after a draw," he said.
"It's a bit disappointing that we haven't been able to get the results like Dave's talking about and converting that because it has been really good, but without results it doesn't show to everyone else. We're desperate for that, we really want to be able to show everyone some of the good stuff that we're doing, so hollow, disappointing."
AT A GLANCE
Wallabies 16 (Hooper try; Hodge con; Hodge pen 3) drew with Pumas 16 (Delguy try; Miotti con; Sanchez pen, Miotti pen 2)