ROSARIO: On this night, at this venue, on this occasion, the Wallabies could easily have lost their way. A team with its fair share of novices and new combinations would not have been used to such a zoo-like atmosphere, with a baying crowd perched right on top of the tourists, urging on the confrontational home side and even using a laser beam to put the Australians off the task at hand.
So raucous was the crowd the players could barely hear each other. They were almost forced to resort to sign language to communicate. The high humidity made the ground slippery and the football was near impossible to hold. On top of that, the dimensions of the ground were such that the playing area was several metres too short. It was claustrophobic. Not a spot for anyone who is a bit sensitive, immature or paranoid.
However, a battered Wallabies line-up, nearly a second XV, stood up to this massive challenge and achieved one of Australian rugby's most courageous triumphs in recent times by defeating the Pumas in a grim, gritty Test at Gigante de Arroyito stadium.
Apart from saving their coach Robbie Deans, the Wallabies again showed they are the masters of excelling when everything is seemingly against them. They are the ultimate backs-to-the-wall merchants.
Their task in Rosario was not easy. They were short of many key players, and had endured a demanding travel schedule just to get there after a week in South Africa, which ended with them being bashed by the Springboks in Pretoria.
A week on, they ran onto the field with raw combinations and a back line more or less thrown together. They were being asked to somehow stop a rampant Pumas outfit pursuing its first win in the Rugby Championship while being urged on by 40,000 screaming, excitable supporters.
To stay ahead took discipline, which the Wallabies showed in abundance. Mike Harris kept his head down, ignored all the distractions, and contributed 20 points with his accurate goal-kicking boot, taking advantage of an ever-pedantic South African referee Craig Joubert going through his usual tedious routine of endlessly whistling away. The only shot the fullback missed coincided with him being lasered by someone in the crowd as he ran in to kick the ball.
The Wallabies' defence remained solid, holding the Pumas out until the 77th minute, while they earlier had finished off one of their few proper attacking chances when Digby Ioane scored a well-crafted try that involved attacking decoys and a delayed pass from his five-eighth Kurtley Beale. And so many inexperienced players were up to the challenge. Young flanker Michael Hooper was a standout, producing one of the few Test highlights when he scampered 60 metres down field after grabbing an opposition lineout throw on the Wallabies line in the second half.
The Pumas were hoping to score from that attacking lineout, but instead Hooper had them frantically back-pedalling.
Ben Tapuai and Nick Cummins were near mistake free, while Beale had his second accomplished Test performance in a row at five-eighth. Nick Phipps controlled proceedings well at halfback, while Harris was as assured in general play as he was lining up for kicks when the lasers were not aimed in his direction.
The Wallabies forwards also kept their opponents at bay, even taking them on in the mauling department. But most important, when under siege, they showed pride in the green and gold.
As their captain, Nathan Sharpe, explained: ''The character and the intensity was outstanding. That provided the platform for our victory. The field was a lot smaller than what we were used to, it was one of the wettest balls we had ever played with, and one of the most hostile crowds I had encountered in my career. And we got the job done.''
When a level head was required it came from the newcomers.
''It would have been very easy for us to lose our cool out there,'' prop Ben Alexander said.
''The humid weather and the narrow pitch probably didn't suit how we like to play. So tonight was a big step up for us, because for a change we started well and built pressure on the opposition, rather than the other way around.''
There was high drama in the final minutes as replacement Brett Sheehan was sent to the sinbin, and the Pumas were on the charge requiring a converted try to win. But the Wallabies again stuck solid, knocking over every Argentinian who came their way, for a victory of which every member of the touring party should be proud.