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Clinical Wallabies forced to dig deep by Argentina

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Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper dives over to score a try

Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper dives over to score a try

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez crying in dejection

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez crying in dejection

Australia's Tevita Kuridrani gets tackled by Nicolas Sanchez

Australia's Tevita Kuridrani gets tackled by Nicolas Sanchez

Australia's Scott Fardy in acton during a lineout

Australia's Scott Fardy in acton during a lineout

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Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper dives over to score a try

Semi-finals are supposed to be fraught, forgettable affairs but this cracking contest will linger in the memory.

After Saturday's heavyweight slug-fest in the teeming rain, this was all fast feet and quick jabs on dry ground as Argentina began at a too-frantic pace and but never gave up on their principles. Their loose play was exploited by a ruthless Australia team who scored some brilliant tries. Yet rarely can a team have outscored their opponents four-tries-to-nil and led for 79 minutes while feeling so uncomfortable.

Forced to chase the game by Rob Simmons' intercept try after 75 seconds, the Pumas stuck to their task but couldn't take the opportunities they continued to create throughout.

Their naivete told at crucial times, particularly from their young winger Santiago Cordero. Against Ireland, they consistently got over the gainline and blitzed the ruck, but found Scott Fardy and David Pocock a step up in class and coughed up possession too frequently.

They lost Augustin Creevy, Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Hernandez to injury and endured a harsh yellow card, but refused to blame Wayne Barnes as they exited the competition with their heads held high.

Australia, meanwhile, can look forward to a final against the All Blacks and a delighted Michael Cheika knows his team have a difficult six days ahead.

"They're the world's No 1 team and they're there for a reason," Cheika, who was full of praise for Argentina, said. "We've only beaten them once in last 10, they're feeling good, they have our measure. It's up to us to do something special.

"Every game at this level is so hard, when a team like New Zealand have so many threats, are well-drilled, have an excellent coach and are well organised you have to work hard all the time and believe in your own way of playing. We know we've to improve.

"We believe in ourselves to go out and do our absolute best. I don't want to look back at that one win, I might have to look at the nine losses, so I just want to look at Saturday and see how we can play as best as we can."

Having scored within two minutes against Ireland, Argentina got off to the worst possible start yesterday as Simmons read Nicolas Sanchez's intentions and picked off his inside pass to score.

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Bernard Foley converted and, although Sanchez got the Pumas off the mark after an excellent power-play, the blue and white jerseys were assembling under their own sticks once again within 10 minutes after Cordero's needless knock-on handed Michael Cheika's side a scrum on the edge of the 22.

The pack provided good ball for Foley who anticipated Imhoff would drift in off his wing and launched the perfect pass for Adam Ashley-Cooper to dive over.

Australia's ability to ruthlessly take chances was in stark contrast to their opponents who spurned a close-in maul largely thanks to the defensive work of Kane Douglas and David Pocock who held it up and forced a scrum. James Slipper collapsed to allow Sanchez kick the penalty but it could have been more.

The momentum was beginning to turn Argentina's way, but a big call by Wayne Barnes and television match official Ben Skeen stemmed the tide. They adjudged Tomas Lavanini to have committed a yellow card offence when he launched himself at the lower half of Israel Folau without using his arms.

Harsh

It was the kind of 'chop' tackle seen so frequently, albeit poorly executed. The decision might have been correct by the letter of the law, but it seemed so out of step with how the offence has been policed to date and very, very harsh from the English referee who failed to notice a similar tackle from Slipper later on.

Australia duly took advantage of their extra man, using a set-play off another good scrum to get Folau over the gainline and then patiently wearing Argentina down through the phases until Matt Giteau spotted a huge overlap on the left wing and floated another delicious pass for the waiting Ashley-Cooper to score.

Foley missed the conversion and Sanchez landed a penalty to keep his side in touch and they might have gotten within three points at half-time if they had just shown that little bit of composure in the final moments of the first half as Cordero broke free and found Hernandez who was caught by Foley and forced his offload.

That fuelled the large and loud Argentinian contingent in the Twickenham stands and they grew noisier when, after Foley missed a chance to extend his side's lead, Slipper collapsed again, allowing Sanchez narrow the gap further.

A silly concession by Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe allowed Foley cancel that out, but despite a 10-point lead the Wallabies were never comfortable as the Pumas relentlessly attacked from everywhere. Tevita Kuridrani was penalised for hands in the ruck after an epic series of attack and counter-attack to allow Sanchez keep his team in touch.

Australia might have given themselves breathing space when, with penalty advantage, Kurtley Beale chipped over the top for Foley who brilliantly found Ashley-Cooper on the wing and he fed Pocock who was coming like a train, but the Argentina back three forced a knock-on with an excellent counter-ruck, while the front-row obliterated the gold scrum and again they went on the attack.

Seven points up, Australia needed some desperate defence to deny them as Jeronimo de la Fuente beat Kuridrani, Fernandez-Lobbe handed off two opponents and they surged into Wallaby territory only for Pocock to intervene and Genia clear.

It wasn't until there were eight minutes remaining that Cheika's side finally got enough daylight to relax as Drew Mitchell superbly left a trail of blue and white jerseys in his wake as he arced inside off his wing and put Ashley-Cooper over for his hat-trick try.

ARGENTINA - J Tuculet; S Cordero, M Bosch, JM Hernandez (J De La Fuente 44), J Imhoff (LG Amorosino 18); N Sanchez, M Landajo (T Cubelli 56); M Ayerza (L Noguera-Paz 61), A Creevy (capt) (J Montoya 31), R Herrera (J Figallo 61); G Petti (M Alemano 58), T Lavanini; P Matera, JM Fernandez Lobbe, L Senatore (F Isa 49).

AUSTRALIA - I Folau (M Toomua 65); A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau (K Beale 47), D Mitchell; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 67); J Slipper (T Smith 53), S Moore (capt) (T Polota-Nau 59), S Kepu (G Holmes 53); K Douglas, R Simmons (D Mumm 67); S Fardy (B McCalman 56-61, 71), M Hooper, D Pocock.

Ref - W Barnes (England)


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