SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Argentina rugby coach Mario Ledesma was bursting with pride as his side ended a tumultuous week with another draw against Australia to round out a remarkable Tri-Nations campaign.
The Pumas landed in Australia having not played in a year but, after two weeks in quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic, they exploded out of the blocks with their historic first win over the All Blacks and a draw with the Wallabies in Newcastle.
They came down to earth with a bump in a 38-0 drubbing at the hands of New Zealand last week which was followed by controversy back home over how little the team did to mark the death of Argentinian football great Diego Maradona.
There followed the discovery of discriminatory comments posted on social media by captain Pablo Matera, lock Guido Petti and hooker Santiago Socino between 2011 and 2013.
On Tuesday, all three were suspended and Matera was stripped of the captaincy only for the punishments to be rescinded by the Argentina Rugby Union on Thursday after an outcry from the players.
None of them played on Saturday (Dec 5) but the team had a No. 10 on the arms of their shirts in a belated tribute to World Cup-winning captain Maradona.
Even without the trio on the pitch, their teammates maintained the brilliant defence that has been the hallmark of their campaign and they could easily have taken a win in their fourth match in four weeks against top-quality sides.
“We had no rest in the middle, while the other teams were resting, we kept going four weeks in a row,” said an emotional Ledesma.
“Without playing the whole year, a lot of injuries throughout, sickness, Covid, and the whole lot, I couldn’t be prouder of this team.
“And the difficult week that we had, because it was really, really, really, really tough. I don’t know if you can imagine how tough it was, and to come out with this effort. Awesome.”
Australia coach Dave Rennie was once again left a frustrated man after his young side displayed familiar shortcomings and recorded their third draw in six Tests this season.
Two weeks ago against Argentina, it was the failure of Australia to turn pressure into points and kill off the game that allowed the Pumas to rescue a 15-15 draw.
Reece Hodge will be in the spotlight after failing to convert late, potentially match-winning, penalties in one draw against New Zealand and two against Argentina this year.
“I feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rennie. “He’s kicked well… and there weren’t many lining up to make that shot. It would have been nice if he’d kicked that, but it is what it is.”
Rennie took over at the start of the season and will be looking to build a side for the 2023 World Cup after a disappointing quarter-final exit in Japan last year.
Saturday’s 16-16 tie gave Argentina second place in the tournament behind New Zealand which, albeit in a season where South Africa did not take part, was their best finish since they joined the southern hemisphere test competition in 2012.
Ledesma felt that but for some of the officiating they might have finished their campaign with a win, given the wet conditions and the red card shown to Australia’s Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the second half.
“When you have to play without the ball, you need field position,” he said.
“I’m a little bit unhappy about the penalty count… when you get penalised that much, it’s difficult to get field position.”