An Andrew Kellaway hat-trick has him within reach of Wallabies history after a 32-17 defeat of Argentina gave them four-straight Rugby Championship Test wins for the first time.
Samu Kerevi’s ankle injury, which could keep him out of the upcoming four-Test end of year tour, was the only concern on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
The form centre limped off after 50 minutes as Australia toyed with the winless Pumas, who scored two late tries after the hosts had led 32-3.
Winger Kellaway, who was shifted to fullback after fellow try-scorer Kerevi’s departure, was in the thick of it again.
The 25-year-old finished a neat set play off a line-out in the first half then ran on to two more in the second period, while again proving a level head in defence and in open spaces with possession.
Kellaway, a Sydney junior prodigy who returned from an overseas stint to the Melbourne Rebels late last season, now has eight tries in a debut year that’s included six starts and two caps off the bench against France.
With four Tests still to play he’s in the box seat to break Israel Folau’s Wallabies record of 10 tries in a debut year.
Australian coach Dave Rennie admitted he wasn’t in the picture when they first started drafting the squad but had forced his hand with good form and an ability to play across the backline.
“He’s got a nose for the line, hasn’t he?” Rennie said after another job his men didn’t quite finish.
“At 32-3, there was a bit of frustration … we wanted to put the foot on the throat, and just lacked a little bit of accuracy, discipline, and gave them some soft possession, and then we just didn’t defend well.”
Argentina were not the force of last season when they twice drew with Australia, completing a winless Rugby Championship with six players ineligible after a midweek trip across the border locked them out of Queensland.
Australia could smell blood but it wasn’t until Kerevi’s departure that they took full toll.
Into fullback with Reece Hodge shifted to replace Kerevi, Kellaway barged over as the Wallabies ran back a shallow Pumas exit kick.
He then accepted a slick backhand flick from Len Ikitau to ice the cake.
Argentina coach and former Australian assistant Mario Ledesma lamented more of the same unforced errors and said the impact of their missing six players was impossible to quantify.
“Like you Australians say, ‘hard to say’,” he said.
“In the second half they scored two really easy tries, then there was a show of character after two months of effort, especially after a difficult week.”
Folau Faingaa scored the game’s first try, finding space behind a line-out to sneak over after Thomas Lavanini was yellow-carded for repeated penalties.
The hooker’s soft hands put Valetini through a gap that led to Kellaway’s first, Australia finally executing after a messy first 30 minutes.
Sean McMahon was quiet in his first Wallabies minutes since 2017 and 38-year-old Greg Holmes earned his first cap since 2016 when both came on as second-half substitutions.
James O’Connor was among them, replacing Quade Cooper for the last 23 minutes.
Cooper had done his best to open the Pumas up with short cross-field kicks to his wingers.
When winger Jordan Petaia limped off with cramp there was still 13 minutes to play, hooker Lachlan Lonergan thrust into the unfamiliar position as the Test ended as scrappily as it began.