Wallabies put UK on notice, but let old habits creep back in

Winning their fourth straight Rugby Championship match for the first time in their history, the Wallabies have put their end-of-year Tour opponents on notice through an emphatic second half against the Pumas to win 32-17, but a sloppy period late in the game and too much 'cutesy' play in the opening 30-minutes showed there's still plenty for this developing pack to learn.

Edging ever closer to a full 80-minute performance, the Wallabies needed to make a statement in their final Test at home in 2021, and while the forward pack put in an impressive shift and the backline created outstanding tries including a hat-trick to Andrew Kellaway, old habits trickled in on several occasions through poor discipline and lack of patience with possession.

"Look, yeah, we're happy to win," Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said post-match. "I think it was 32-3... so you know there's a bit of frustration and we want to put the foot on their throats and we just lacked a little bit of accuracy and discipline.

"We gave them some soft possession and territory, and then we just didn't defend well from there either. I thought our defence was excellent for the majority of the game, but it's disappointing in that last stage.

"The positive thing is we're grumpy after wins, so that's certainly raised the expectations, and we know we've got a lot more left in us."

After three straight impressive wins, it was clear the Wallabies wanted to make a statement early in their final Rugby Championship clash, but they struggled to get started. While they retained their smart kicking game, they pushed the ball out wide too quickly and too often, and allowed sloppy play to creep into their game.

It was the Wallabies being "too cutesy" Wallabies forward coach Dan McKellar told Stan Sport at the halftime break. Quade Cooper showed flashes of the gambler of old, sending several kick passes across the field to Jordan Petaia, determined to unleash the strike weapon, while the proven dangerous star player Samu Kerevi was often overlooked.

Several striking opportunities were seemingly flushed away as the Wallabies got too far ahead of themselves. It wasn't until the 27th minute that Australia found their heads and scored a crucial try to Folau Fainga'a through a rolling maul. With points on the board, the Wallabies looked settled and more tries soon followed through Kellaway.

Putting an exclamation point on an already outstanding debut season for the Wallabies, Kellaway finished off a fabulous set-piece play off the back of a lineout, supporting No.8 Rob Valetini who slotted through a wide gap to dive over the line for his first of the night. He'd follow it up with another two in quick succession in the second half.

A real find this season, the 25-year-old was constantly working off the ball, moving from one side of the field to the other, while he's been close to unbeatable in defence, regularly shutting down any opposition threats. Moved from the left wing to the right to accommodate the return of Petaia, Kellaway showed the change would play no bearing on his game and easily overshadowed his backline partner on his return to the starting lineup.

"Kells [Kellaway] has a nose for the line, doesn't he? He's been excellent," Rennie said. "To be honest he wasn't in our plans about a month before we named the squad, but he came back to the Rebels and played really well, and we didn't have an option, he could be a 15, 14, 13 and once he got his opportunity he's impressed.

"He's a consistent part of the starting lineup now. Real credit to Kells, he's been really impressive and keeps getting better."

Kellaway was joined by wrecking ball Kerevi on the try scoring list after the inside centre finished off a beautiful move from Quade Cooper, which saw almost the entire backline sweep around the back of the ruck and line up for a pass before the fly-half straightened up at the last second to create the gap and flick the ball to Kerevi who made no mistakes in crashing over. While his centre partner Len Ikitau continued to show his growth and his confidence, looking threatening throughout the 80 minutes.

"I think Leni Ikitau's been fantastic, he's a young man who a year ago was miles away from where he is now.

"He's worked really hard, he's got a really good skillset; very good distributor, good kicking game and he hits hard. He's pretty quiet naturally, but his voice has increased dramatically over the last couple of months, as has his confidence."

There was plenty to be impressed with up front as well. The forward pack smashed the Pumas scrum several times, their lineout was precise and their maul defense remained solid, while they pipped a few lineout wins over Argentina.

Looking unstoppable halfway through the second half, the Wallabies looked certain to add plenty more points to the board, but an injury to Kerevi, several substitutions and a late cramp to Petaia had the team scrambling. Kellaway was pushed to fullback, Michael Hooper found himself on the wing while Lachlan Lonergan moved into flanker. The scrambling led to sloppiness and the Pumas pounced, closing the gap.

"I was pretty out of my comfort zone out there, but it was a good challenge for us," Hooper said. "The bench had a couple of shifts there, they had to come on and try work some stuff out on the run, we weren't great at that, so I think we can probably improve.

"It was a good game, we created a lot of opportunities, but it was just sloppy at the end. We were sloppy with our discipline, which was something we wanted to be good at tonight.

"I think for parts we were really, really good, you know we hurt them quite easily at times and then built some good pressure, but we just kept letting them into the game; kicks to corner and silly discipline."

With 10 days until the Wallabies start their Northern Hemisphere tour against Japan, Rennie will be sweating on the fitness of Kerevi who ended the match on crutches and has suffered an apparent syndesmosis ankle injury. He'll be key to the team's success in the UK, where the Wallabies haven't won in several years.

But for now, the Wallabies will be celebrating an incredible turn of form and the momentum they've garnered over the last four weeks.

"I think in terms of us, what's been pleasing is we're gaining momentum and creating a bit of Wallaby rugby and how we want to play on the field," Hooper said. "At times we're really dangerous, clinical and physical, you know stuff that we want to be known for when they guys and girls watch us in the stands.

"We've got to keep growing that, we're not where we want to be, but you know pleasing to be gaining a lot of momentum and singing the song in the change room."