Leali'ifano, scrum rout breathe life into Wallabies' Cup campaign

The return of Christian Leali'ifano and a powerful scrum performance not seen from an Australian side in years have breathed life into the Wallabies' Rugby World Cup campaign just when it was most needed.

And it came on a night of southern hemisphere rugby that suggested the ninth showing of the game's global showpiece could well descend into a dogfight of rush defence and single match-defining moments after the Springboks and All Blacks had earlier played out a gripping 16-all draw.

Replacement Herschel Jantjies' 80th minute try at Westpac Stadium earlier on Saturday night has set up an enthralling second matchday at the World Cup when the Springboks will again confront the All Blacks in what is arguably the single biggest pool match in the tournament's history.

The Wallabies will have earlier confronted Fiji on the afternoon of September 21, a match Australian rugby fans will be feeling just that little better about after Michael Cheika's side scrapped their way to just a second win in six Tests and their first in this calendar year: A 16-10 victory over Argentina.

And they could credit a vastly-improved defensive effort from last week's loss to the Springboks as well as a scrum that drew five penalties -- three of which came in the second half after the introduction of Taniela Tupou -- for a morale-boosting victory they still had to work right up until the final whistle to secure.

While the oft-criticised defensive coach Nathan Grey will have likely paused for a moment of positive reflection due to the Wallabies' improved defensive shape and line-speed, 34 missed tackles and 10 line breaks from the Pumas suggest there is still plenty of work to be done if Australia are going to repeat their run to the 2015 final in Japan later this year.

Better general ball-handling and skill execution are also required after two poor final passes made Reece Hodge's finish for the Wallabies' only try much tougher than it should have been, while another try-scoring chance had earlier gone begging when Tevita Kuridrani failed to grasp a low Samu Kerevi pass on 15 minutes.

Leali'ifano's return, however, deserves to be celebrated. The Wallabies fly-half capped a remarkable recovery from leukemia with a victory on his return to the Test arena; the Brumbies' playmaker threw the deft pass that put Marika Koroibete into a yawning gap that would eventually lead to Hodge's try.

Koroibete's poor pass to Beale was the winger's only real blemish on his return in a performance that will have gone a long way to locking up the No. 11 jersey in Japan, but against better defensive teams that same pass could have so easily cost the Wallabies five points.

Leali'ifano, meanwhile, kicked all four of his goals in a 60-minute performance that has at last given Bernard Foley some competition at fly-half. The same goes for an impressive Will Genia who responded to Nic White's strong showing in Johannesburg with a free-running night on his final outing at Suncorp Stadium.

Cheika, at last, has some decisions to make in the halves; first for the Bledisloe Cup in two weeks' time and then the World Cup. It may be that he adopts a horses-for-courses attitude against different oppositions who boast varied strengths, but the arrival of White and Leali'ifano mean Genia and Foley know they have a fight on their hands.

Leali'ifano certainly didn't confront the same concentrated rush defence that Foley did against the Springboks last week and is in need of a further examination either in Perth or Auckland. But it was still a night to remember for a player whose career looked all but over just three years ago.

The delight Leali'ifano took in being back on the game's biggest stage was evident as halftime as he spoke with Fox Sports' Rod Kafer as he left the field: "Oh, man, really excited, I was a bit nervous coming in but now I'm really enjoying it...you can see me puffing here, so it's definitely up another level. But I'm definitely enjoying it, it's a good challenge."

The challenge for Tupou, meanwhile, was to atone for last weekend's yellow card which cost the Wallabies two tries and any real chance of victory against the Springboks. And the Reds' prop certainly did his best to do just that as he first combined with Folau Fainga'a and Scott Sio to earn a penalty immediately after halftime, and continued to pressure the Pumas front-row alongside fellow replacements James Slipper and Tolu Latu throughout the second half.

In what will be a change of narrative from previous tournaments, the Wallabies may actually head to Japan with a scrum that can not only hold its own but, better still, earn rewards from the referee. But it goes without saying they need to first repeat Saturday night's dose against the All Blacks in a fortnight's time.

So too will be the need to sharpen up an attack that is showing glimpses of promise but has so far been let down by poor handling or a final pass that just is continually missing the mark.

"I actually thought that was probably the most costly factor of the evening, was our handling," Cheika told Fox Sports post match. "You can say there's dew and it's wet but at the end of the day you've got to catch a ball, that's how it is.

"And I think at the end of day, we made ourselves -- just like last week too -- a lot of opportunities; now guys know how to catch a ball so it's about concentration in those moments. Don't look at the goal-line ahead of you, don't look at the break ahead of you, just catch the ball and keep going on. The eagerness and the excitement of trying to get something happening, which we got a lot of, probably cost us a little bit."

The All Blacks and Springboks each only had one genuine try-scoring chance in Wellington earlier on Saturday. Both sides nailed it, too; the class of Beauden Barrett and sheer determination of Jantjies ensured five points didn't go begging for either of the great southern hemisphere rivals.

The Wallabies aren't at that level yet, but Saturday night's win showed they're worth another viewing in two weeks' time in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Perth.

A sellout crowd at Optus Stadium awaits, ensuring 60,000 pairs of eyeballs will get a first-hand look at a Wallabies outfit desperate to impress ahead of Japan.