What a phenomenal performance that was last weekend as Argentina made history by getting their first ever win over the All Blacks. It was a powerhouse effort, and the Pumas weren’t just good – they were magnificent! They brought their world renown physicality to the match, but with it focus, discipline, execution and in the process simply outclassed their mighty rivals in every department. Our fears over Argentina having been placed in a rugby wilderness since the last World Cup as a result of COVID-19 proved to be completely unfounded as the Pumas gave us a textbook example of how adversity breeds strength and character. Ever since the last World Cup cycle we were convinced that the Pumas first win over New Zealand was going to be only a question of time – we just didn’t expect it after a 13 month absence from the Test Arena! With that victory Argentina have suddenly made the Tri Nations all that more interesting, and we are all waiting with bated breath to see if they can add a Wallaby scalp to their collection this Saturday in Sydney and set themselves up for a genuine shot at the title!
As for New Zealand, they now find themselves in unfamiliar territory, as they reflect on two back to back losses. However, we still don’t think that the All Blacks are on some inevitable downward spiral. Sure there clearly are teething problems with the new Coaching arrangements, and Ian Foster may well be out of his depths. Nevertheless this is still a team used to a culture of winning, and there is enough experience in the squad to figure out how to do it, even if the direction from the Coaching box may be confusing. Hit the panic button at the end of the Tri Nations if they suffer any more losses, but for now they are probably at the expresso machine unravelling two powerful wake up calls and no doubt hatching a plan to get themselves back on track.
Australia on the other hand must have watched last weekend’s match with horror. Sure they have beaten the All Blacks, but only by 2 points, and it certainly wasn’t the masterclass of destruction put on by Argentina last Saturday. We can’t help feeling that despite a much improved performance, their 24-22 victory over the All Blacks a fortnight ago in Brisbane, was a little too tense for comfort for much of the match with New Zealand right in it till the end. Argentina on the other hand had their win comfortably sewn up by the 70 minute mark despite a late All Black surge. If Argentina bring the kind of intensity, discipline and execution they showed against the All Blacks, Australia could end up being in a world of pain for eighty minutes on Saturday. New Zealand seem slightly unsure of themselves at the moment as does Australia, whereas Argentina clearly do not. As a result the Wallabies will need to raise their game that much more than they did in Brisbane two weeks ago.
Argentina vs Australia – Saturday, November 21st – Broadmeadow (North Sydney)
Argentina remain unchanged in their starting XV for Saturday’s match, from the squad that caused the All Blacks so much pain. To add insult to injury for Australia they continue to bring in some heavy artillery in the shape of their overseas based players and the bench sees the welcome addition of Toulon based back rower Facundo Isa.
The Pumas were effective last weekend for a multitude of reasons, but key were an excellent kick and chase game, an absolutely watertight defence and them finally breaking away from trying to play too much rugby in their own half, which has cost them dearly in the past. In defence their tackling technique was outstanding, often with one player tackling to be followed up by another seeking a turnover. The precision and intensity was something to behold. They put the All Blacks under so much pressure that they caused the New Zealanders to make mistakes on an almost continuous basis. An example is a statistic we are not used to associating with the Pumas, but in 80 minutes the Pumas made 1 handling error compared to the 16 made by New Zealand. That speaks volumes about the kind of relentless pressure Argentina were able to put their opponents under.
Argentina are likely to bring the same kind of intensity to Saturday’s match helped by the fact that after 80 minutes of a hugely physical contest, they hardly looked out of breath and ready for another 40 minutes if necessary. Australia will have to bring something very special to the park on Saturday if they are to get past this group of exceptionally fired up South Americans, and to be honest apart from perhaps Marika Koroibete, we’ve haven’t seen too much from Australia that can match it. They may also be basking in the glow of beating the All Blacks a fortnight ago, but it wasn’t nearly as clinical as Argentina’s victory over the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud.
While there is no doubt that it has improved dramatically, the Wallabies scrum simply doesn’t pack the quality of the Pumas offering
Argentina have always been renown for their scrummaging prowess, but sadly it had taken a step backwards in the last couple of years. Last Saturday, it was back to its powerhouse best, as they simply denied New Zealand any kind of traction here. Australia may have improved their technique in this area but they are still giving away far too many penalties here, whereas Argentina were masters of composure in this regard last weekend. We just can’t see how the Wallabies are going to avoid getting bossed around up front on Saturday. Backing up the front row is that powerhouse lock division the Pumas boast in Guido Petti and Matias Alemanno, with Australia’s Rob Simmonds in particular just simply not being of the same vintage. In short, we may be proved wrong, but we expect the Wallabies to really struggle in the tight five battles and at lineout time. Puma Hooker Julian Montoya was simply outstanding last weekend and Argentina were solid in the lineouts as he consistently found his targets. If you see any kind of parity here from the Wallabies then they will have clearly done their homework well.
Look out Michael – he’s coming for you!
In many ways this expression on Captain Pablo Matera’s face after yet another outstanding turnover from the Argentinian back rower summed up the Pumas afternoon last weekend. They mean business and will suffer no fools or insults. You couldn’t ask for a more fired up and insprirational leader if you tried. Australia’s Michael Hooper is a fine Captain in his own right always leading from the front with little or no regard to his own safety, but you just don’t get the feeling that he has this kind of intensity. Argentina’s back row of Matera, Marcos Kremer and Rodrigo Bruni were nothing short of remarkable last weekend. In the past the kind of intensity that Matera and his teammates put on display last weekend, often led to disciplinary breakdowns but last Saturday the Pumas were so clinical in the way they went about things, they hardly put a foot wrong. It was a textbook performance in how a back row should work and we just don’t see Australia being able to offer the same kind of quality. The Pumas will know that Wallaby Ned Hanigan is prone to being a disciplinary liability and Kremer is going to put a mountain of pressure on him, so expect the Australian to get to know referee Paul Williams very well on Saturday.
In short a double team from hell!
Brumbies rule the scrum half position
Although Pumas scrum half Tomas Cubelli has been with the Jaguares in Super Rugby recently, he and Wallaby scrum half Nic White have both cut their teeth with the Canberra outfit, and consequently are very aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Of the two though we feel that Cubelli has the calmer head and is a more reliable ball distributor as well as having a better kicking game. Expect plenty of fireworks from the two Brumbies stablemates and one of the best contests of the afternoon.
He handled Caleb Clarke for the most part now it’s Marika Koroibete’s turn
We’d really missed Argentine winger Bautista Delguy due to injury, but he came back with a bang last Saturday, and for the most part managed to keep New Zealand’s latest tactical weapon Caleb Clarke in check, except for that consolation try at the end for the All Blacks. Delguy is going to have his work cut out containing a similar freight train in the shape of Australia’s Marike Koroibete. The Fijian is one player who in the last few weeks can certainly put his hand up and be counted, as he has put in some of the Wallabies best performances of this Bledisloe/Tri Nations series. Both players possess some magical feet and outright speed, but Koroibete brings some additional physical firepower. Nevertheless Delguy did not shy away from tackling a similar physical specimen in the shape of New Zealand’s Caleb Clarke last Saturday. The battle between these two on Saturday will be one of the most exciting aspects of Saturday’s festitivies.
The Michael Cheika sub plot
This famous half time rant by the former Wallaby Coach as his charges had been given a rather harsh schooling by the Pumas in Argentina a few years ago, is no doubt doing the rounds in Australia at the moment. In Cheika’s defence, he clearly put the fear of god into the Wallabies as they went out and comprehensively turned the game around and won convincingly in the end. How ironic it is that he now is an advisor to the same team that gave him so much grief once.
We’ll be honest we have never been fans of Cheika, and didn’t exactly shed a tear after his unceremonious departure from the Wallaby Coaching job. However, he and Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma are no strangers to each other. The legendary Pumas scrummager was part of the Wallabies Coaching set up from 2015 – 2017, but his relationship with Cheika goes all the way back to 2011, when the two coached with French club Stade Francais. Whatever you may say about Cheika, it was always clear that there was a strong bond of mutual respect between himself and Ledesma. That bond was very evident in the Pumas coaching box last weekend and clearly paid dividends. His role as an advisor to the Pumas during their stint in Australia is obviously a productive arrangement, and if anything he appears much more his jovial relaxed self without having the burden of the head Coach job. If the Pumas do end up pulling off the double this weekend and upending the Wallabies, then there is absolutely no doubt that noone would enjoy the snub to his former employers more than Cheika. The Pumas are fired up enough but add Cheika’s own personal motivation to the mix and they may well become unstoppable on Saturday. In short, the plot thickens.
To sum up we find it hard to see a very polished and focused Pumas side coming unstuck against an inconsistent Wallaby side who would still appear to be at the optician in terms of focus. The Australians looked a lot sharper in in that narrow victory over the All Blacks, than they did in the 43-5 drubbing they were handed by the Kiwis at the start of the tournament. They will want to build on their win a fortnight ago, but then so will the Pumas after having made history. Argentina know what they want to do and how to do it, whereas so far we can only say that the Wallabies know what they want but are still unsure as to how to go about it. Consequently, our money is on the South Americans to put themselves within reach of their first genuine shot at silverware in the Southern Hemisphere’s big show.
If you forgot to set your PVR last weekend and missed all the fun, the full match is over on the TV/Internet page, till the SANZAAR thought police remove it. Enjoy and DO NOT FORGET TO SET YOUR PVR THIS SATURDAY IN THE WEE HOURS!!!!!
We’ll be back tonight with a look at this Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup action.