Australia coach Michael Cheika immediately installed his side as overwhelming longshots for Saturday’s World Cup final against old foes New Zealand after withstanding a rousing second-half fightback by Argentina in yesterday’s semi-final.
A hat-trick from wing Adam Ashley-Cooper added to an early a touchdown from second-row Rob Simmons and that proved sufficient for the two-time tournament winners to nullify the flawless kicking of Pumas fly-half Nicolas Sanchez.
It will be the first time in World Cup history that the two Antipodean rivals and southern hemisphere powerhouses do battle in the final, while it is Australia’s first since suffering defeat to England on home soil 12 years ago.
Australia were the last team to beat the All Blacks -- a 27-19 victory in August saw the Wallabies claim the Rugby Championship -- although their overall record against the reigning world champions reads one victory in 12 encounters.
“They [New Zealand] are the world’s No1 and they are there for a reason. We’ve only beaten them once in the last 10 matches so I think they will be feeling pretty good and that they’ve got our measure,” said Cheika.
“It’s up to us to do something special, to do something extra just be competitive and we’ll see what happens from there.
“We’ve got to improve massively from what we did today to even be in the hunt next week. We’ll pick two or three things and try and make those better.
“When you’ve got a team like New Zealand with so many threats, who are so very well-drilled, well organised and have a great coach, they know what they’re doing and you have to be working hard all the time.
“You have to believe in your own way of playing. We know we’re going to have to improve again and we’ll be doing our best to do that.”
An open and expansive tussle was promised and it took just 67 seconds to spark into life as lock Simmons intercepted a Sanchez inside-pass to gallop across the line for the tournament’s quickest try.
A second Wallabies’ touchdown followed after 10 minutes. Stemming from a knock-on from Argentina wing Santiago Cordero, a switch of direction and hurled mis-pass by fly-half Bernard Foley preceded a trademark Ashley-Cooper finish in the corner.
That projected Ashley-Cooper to standalone third on the all-time list of Australian Test try-scorers, and the 31-year-old barely broke stride as he added to his tally eight minutes shy of half-time following another mis-pass, this time from Toulon’s Matt Giteau.
Australia’s tries were interspersed by three Sanchez penalties which kept Argentina, who lost skipper Agustin Creevy and wing Juan Imhoff to injury and saw lock Tomas Lavanini sin-binned, in touch at the break – trailing 19-9.
Two Sanchez penalties, either side of one from Foley, cut Argentina’s deficit to seven, only for Drew Mitchell to embark on a scything run from deep and present the irrepressible Ashley-Cooper with his third try inside the final 10 minutes.
Ashley-Cooper became only the second player, behind New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu, to score a hat-trick in a World Cup semi-final.