The Tri Nations suddenly starts to feel like it, as Argentina join the party in Australia

Posted: November 12, 2020 in General Commentary
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While all eyes have been on Australia for the last four weeks, in their ongoing battle with New Zealand for the Bledisloe Cup, which now firmly rests with the All Blacks, it was easy to forget that the final two rounds were also part of the Tri Nations. Normally this would be referred to as the Rugby Championship, but with World Champions South Africa electing not to compete this year, it left only three of the usual four participants.

Argentina arrive in Australia with the added disadvantage of having had no Super Rugby since March, unlike their Australian and New Zealand rivals. However, Argentina in light of the global pandemic has relaxed its restrictions on foreign based players, so at least the Pumas will benefit from players plying their trade with top flight European clubs. Argentina also have spent the last two weekends playing invitational Australian sides, winning both matches and the last one in particular by a very healthy margin. Nevertheless as your first proper Test since the World Cup, the All Blacks pose a significant challenge, especially a side smarting from a loss to the Wallabies last weekend. New Zealand simply didn’t play well last Saturday, and although the Wallabies didn’t exactly blow them off the park, one of the main reasons they won was due to the fact that they were particularly effective at getting under the All Blacks’ skin. New Zealand were clearly rattled in Brisbane, and their discipline went out the window as a result. The Pumas are well known for their own set of powder keg emotions, so whatever the result expect a feisty contest.

So looking at the team sheets, here’s what got us talking about Saturday’s encounter in Parramatta just west of Sydney.

New Zealand vs Argentina – Saturday, October 14th – Paramatta

New Zealand weren’t exactly at their best last weekend against the Wallabies. Although Australia played considerably better than they did a fortnight ago in the Sydney slaughterhouse, they also profited from the fact that the All Blacks suffered from a serious and uncharacteristic lack of composure. Perhaps more concerning was the disciplinary lapses that this caused and were not held in check by Captain Sam Cane. Cane himself was guilty of throwing himself into the fray on numerous occasions and clearly letting the Australians get under his skin. While every player wants to see their Captain stand his ground for the team, there is also the expectation that he will lead from the front and not allow himself to be drawn into handbags at dawn type contests. Unfortunately Cane was all too willing to argue his case with his fists, something the officials were quick to recognize, and the penalty count against New Zealand suffered as a result.

However, all that aside let’s not lose sight of the fact that New Zealand only lost by two points to the Wallabies and had their discipline been better, they probably could have won it. Rattled they may have been, but to be honest that’s as far as it goes. Unfortunately for Argentina New Zealand are unlikely to make the same set of mistakes twice. You only have to look at the All Black lineup for Saturday, and it’s blatantly obvious that New Zealand intend taking no prisoners whatsoever, and a focus on the task at hand will clearly be the order of the day.

Look who’s back!!!

They’re back and Argentina need them more than ever! It’s been the subject of much debate in Argentina for a few years now, but there is little doubt that as a result of COVID-19 and the lack of regular game time the Pumas were going to struggle to be competitive with only locally based players. Europe has long been a lure for quality Argentinian players, both financially and professionally. European clubs have profited from their presence, while at the same time the players benefit from the exposure to top flight club rugby on a weekly basis. It’s a win win situation for both sides, and the Pumas now benefit from a core of players that form the spine of a competitive team based on the kind of experience and exposure that they would have otherwise got through Super Rugby.

As a result, some of Argentina’s best players return to the fold such as Captain and back rower Pablo Matera, dynamic second row duo of Guido Petti and Matias Alemanno, fly half Nicolas Sanchez and center Matias Orlando, alongside wingers Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero. Add to that some genuine up and coming talent, and this is a quality looking Pumas side. A slightly irritated All Black side with a point to prove may not be their ideal choice for a Test opener, but expect them to still make a fair fist of it on Saturday. In short, they will be no pushover and as always worthy opponents deserving the utmost respect.

Hooker Wars

No it’s not the title of some sleazy X-rated movie, but Saturday’s contest between two of the most prolific try scorers in the number two jersey. What makes the match up between the two so interesting is the contrast in styles. New Zealand’s Dane Coles clearly wants to be a winger in his next life, while Argentina’s Julian Montoya typifies the skills of every great hooker to find that tiny ray of light in a sea of writhing forwards to jot the ball down. Coles abilities and pace with ball in hand is at times outrageous, and in any match if you watch the highlights you’ll see he spends a significant proportion of his time loitering as an extra utility back out wide. Montoya meanwhile will be found consistently burrowing his way through massive forward pile ups, or wheeling off the back of yet another bruising Argentinian rolling maul.

Two of Test rugby’s most reliable assets – but their approach to their duties could not be more different, yet always entertaining to watch.

He was just warming up

One of New Zealand’s most dangerous players in our opinion is number 8 Ardie Savea. He seemed to start slowly in the opening Bledisloe rounds, but despite the loss last weekend we felt that Savea was starting to get back to his best again. The man is a writhing ball of energy that is both devastatingly destructive and almost impossible to contain. All of this does not bode well for Rodrigo Bruni his opposite number in the Pumas, and that entire Argentinian back row for that matter. Savea is such a handful that containing him can invariably take up the attentions of several players. Watch any replay and notice how Savea literally flails himself out of the clutches of the opposition – he looks borderline demented. Despite the exceptional skill set of Marcos Kremer and Pablo Matera (who has similar tendencies) they are going to have a hard time of it containing the All Black wrecking ball.

Raging Bull

Argentine Captain Pablo Matera is well known for his similarities with Robert de Niro in the film of the same name, but All Black Captain Sam Cane is not. Consequently the New Zealand skipper has come under a lot of heat from the New Zealand press for his reaction to Australia last weekend. They clearly got under his skin and Mr. Cane was a very angry man for much of the scrappy 80 minute contest. It did not sit well with him or his team and their resulting performance. He will clearly need to contain it this weekend, and Pablo Matera who has temper issues of his own will be looking to exploit that weakness. Unfortunately, we think it’s likely to be Matera who will fall foul of the referee’s whistle more often than Cane as outstanding a player as the Puma is, but Argentina will certainly be looking to press some buttons on Saturday.

Beauty and the Beast

Yes sorry it’s our last film analogy we promise. But Saturday’s contest does see a clash that we are eagerly anticipating between New Zealand’s Caleb Clarke and Argentina’s Bautista Delguy. The Puma brings all the grace, flair and speed that one associates with South American football, while Clarke displays all the qualities that made individuals such as Jonah Lomu such legends in their time. We are trying very hard to resist the temptation to draw analogies between Clarke and the great man, but there is no doubt that the All Blacks latest find in a sea of seemingly endless talent is a force of nature to be reckoned with. For the Pumas, Delguy has a truly dazzling turn of pace and some extraordinary footballing skills. He may not have the brute force and dam busting skills of his All Black counterpart on Saturday, but he is still a strong and competent ball carrier. Nevertheless his defensive abilities are going to be put to the ultimate test on Saturday. Get through it with honor and he can file it away proudly in his lifetime achievements cabinet – but it’s definitely going to be a tall order. By the same token however, we haven’t really seen what Caleb Clarke’s defensive skills are like yet, and the young Puma is certainly going to put the All Black wonder weapon to the test if he gets the opportunity.

Some are writing off the Pumas chances already, and we think that is slightly unfair. There is no denying that it’s an absolute powerhouse All Black lineup that runs out on Saturday, and lays down a very clear statement of intent. Furthermore unlike the Pumas they are fresh off the back of four Test matches, even if one of them was a bit of a Sunday stroll in Sydney.

As mentioned in previous posts we would be absolutely gutted if the isolation now imposed on the Pumas as a result of the global pandemic causes their exciting brand of rugby to take a step backwards. We hope and think it won’t as there is the core of a talented and skilled team here, especially now that the use of foreign based players has once again been approved. New Zealand should ultimately pull away comfortably in the second half, but we expect them to walk away knowing that the Pumas are still a feisty and challenging opponent. For Argentina, they can hopefully use this match to prepare for an encounter with a Wallaby side still struggling to find its groove. New Zealand may ultimately prove to be in league of their own this Tri-Nations, but Argentina and Australia may well find themselves in the same class this year.

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