6 October, 2014, 12:00 am
MENDOZA, Argentina – The Wallabies struggled with laser-beaming fans and questionable refereeing as their miserable trip to Argentina ended with a humbling and historic 21-17 loss to the Pumas in Mendoza.
Australian goalkicker Bernard Foley was targeted by spectators and was clearly distressed before missing a potentially match-winning shot from next to the posts as the Pumas roared to their first-ever Rugby Championship win.
The Wallabies were also frustrated and bemused by the second-half sin-binning of halfback Nick Phipps and captain Michael Hooper, as well as a pivotal no-try ruling against centre Tevita Kuridrani.
The deflating loss came after a week of turmoil in Australia’s ranks, with the Wallabies reeling from injuries, an epic loss to the Springboks, Kurtley Beale’s in-flight run-in with management and a monster travel schedule.
Ultimately, though, they probably would have won had Foley – with fans shining a laser directly in his eyes – not struck an upright with a routine penalty attempt from 10 metres to the left.
“It’s not great. It was happening all night on all the kicks,” said Foley, knowing he could have put Australia up 20-18 with only a few minutes remaining.
“I’m not too sure what you can do with the crowd there. It’s a bit like the soccer stuff that they do over here, the carry on.”
Kurtley Beale and Mike Harris have also been subjected to similar treatment on recent visits to Argentina, while All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden was awarded a re-kick after suffering the same fate last year at a Test match in La Plata.
“It’s problematic and only seems to happen in certain places,” said Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.
“We’ve talked about this in the past and it’s cropped up again.”
Although Owens reversed the sin-binnings of lock James Horwill and fullback Israel Folau either side of halftime in unprecedented refereeing calls, the Wallabies were hammered 16-8 in the penalty count and spent a quarter of the match a man short.
After Australia squandered an early 14-0 lead, Phipps was dispatched for kicking the ball at a ruck, while Hooper was upset at being yellow-carded late for an aerial challenge on Pumas fullback Joaquin Tuculet.
“I thought it was a genuine charge down,” Hooper said.
McKenzie said the Wallabies would seek explanation from match officials as to why his side was so harshly penalised.