There was real character to this 41-26 win by the Wallabies in Mendoza to launch the eToro Rugby Championship.
It wasn’t because everything was precise. It wasn’t. It was because they scrapped in a hostile arena, they won from behind, key players stood up and they found answers under pressure.
What did we learn?
1 QUADE COOPER’S RETURN
It was a forlorn sight watching Cooper being helped off with a blown Achilles tendon after 47 minutes.
It's not just missing the rest of the The Rugby Championship but the end of year tour to Europe which is the tough prognosis.
The Cooper-Samu Kerevi double whammy was going to be a major part of Australia’s attacking plan for the TRC. Both are now gone.
Cooper’s presence at flyhalf was positive overall while he was on. He delayed his pass perfectly to put Jordan Petaia over for the Wallabies’ first try when the winger made the extra man in the backline.
It was good to see Cooper pin his ears back and take off on a 50m run himself when he found a hole.
The good and bad was on display in the opening moments. When pressured, his backhand flick pass in front of his posts only turned a tricky situation into something worse.
Cooper ripping the ball back from Pablo Matera shortly after was an excellent comeback. Cooper showed he was up for the physical fight when the Pumas were clearly trying to put him under pressure.
Cooper was putting on some footwork when the Achilles gave way. It's probably a nine-month injury and a repair in his confidence to dart and run will take longer. The Test was opening up at that stage so it was extra disappointment not having the veteran No.10 there.
2 JED THE DEBUTANT
Experienced Jed Holloway produced an upbeat Test debut in the backrow. He certainly looked suited to the level.
His lineout work will become more and more valuable. Just before half-time, he looked to have stolen an Argentinian throw but the penalty went the home side’s way instead.
He produced the best handling touch of the game when fullback Tom Wright flung the ball inside on attack. Holloway picked up the pass clean at bootlace level.
His defensive effort was much needed.
To widen the analysis to the whole backrow, Rob Valetini was the go-to figure to get the Wallabies going forward.
He was punching forward as a key ball-runner even when the Wallabies were ragged in the first half.
Michael Hooper’s sudden exit on Test eve to tackle personal issues meant a start for Fraser McReight.
Like Hooper, he was everywhere as an openside flanker and has a wide range of skills. He surged over for the rolling maul try just after Cooper went off. It was a huge moment.
Credit to the smart plan by coach Dave Rennie to give McReight three games for Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup to sharpen him for a sudden call-up just like this.
3 FOLAU FAINGA’A
The Brumbies hooker has taken his game to new levels. He’s no one-trick pony as a rolling maul weapon anymore.
His charges in general play had real punch and purpose. Best of all, he nailed all his lineout throws and marshalled a strong scrum.
He had to show some dexterity to ground the ball for a key try.
The Wallabies have taken the Brumbies’ rolling maul and made it part of their own DNA.
4 RESILIENCE UNDER PRESSURE
Unless you have been to Argentina, you won’t understand the frenzy of the crowd and how the Pumas are a 10-point better side on home soil.
Being down by nine points at half-time was a really dangerous situation for the Wallabies. Things could easily have gone pear-shaped.
Instead, the Wallabies showed excellent poise with a 31-point second half. Reece Hodge did really well for more than 30 minutes as a fill-in flyhalf. He didn’t over play things and called on his experience.
Hunter Paisami took more responsibility from that point and contributed strongly from inside centre.
Petaia was spot on with everything he did.
Halfback Nic White’s telegraphed first ruckbase clearance was charged down in the opening minute. He steadied, banged two enormous touch finders when needed and was a cool head as a director of play.
The Wallabies found more discipline which was essential.
The bench was enormous. Prop Taniela Tupou, lock Nick Frost and Hodge were the pick there.
5 NO SUCH THING AS A FORWARD PASS
Referees have so much to deal with these days they seem to have decided that forward passes no longer matter.
There was one in the first Pumas try and a number at other points of the game.