In a weekend, which serves up some rather dour Northern Hemisphere contests in the Autumn Nations Cup, there is no doubt whatsoever that the second Tri-Nations clash between New Zealand and Argentina is THE BIG TICKET item this Saturday. Can Argentina pull off the unthinkable and defeat the All Blacks twice in a row? Can you imagine the headlines across the rugby world on Sunday morning if they do manage to pull off what would clearly be one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history. Despite their remarkable heroics a fortnight ago, and the huge respect and admiration we have for the Pumas, we still have a hard time seeing them achieving a feat similar in magnitude to Moses parting the Red Sea, not just once but twice.
New Zealand may be struggling with adapting to decisions being made in the Coaching box, and have clearly lost some of their customary composure under pressure, but they are still one of the most impressive units on the planet – just watch their 43-5 drubbing of Australia this year if you have any doubts. Furthermore as is well documented, the All Blacks don’t take kindly to being beaten, and the thought of being beaten twice in a row by the same opponent is akin to rugby heresy in the land of the Long White Cloud. As they invariably seem to do, they will have regrouped since the last time they met the Pumas, and will be an entirely different proposition for the South Americans. We can’t wait to watch as in their quest to carve out a piece of rugby history, Argentina’s commitment on Saturday will be off the charts – but there is still no denying that they have one hell of a task on their hands.
Argentina vs New Zealand – Saturday, November 28th – Newcastle
With the passing of Argentine football legend Diego Maradona this week, Argentina will have some extra motivation to once more put Argentina on the sporting map as they endeavor to get a second unprecedented and successive win against the All Blacks. In the case of New Zealand rugby, history rarely repeats itself so Argentina have a mountain to climb and then some.
New Zealand have been under the microscope at home, after back to back defeats to both Australia and Argentina. There are clearly some communication and planning problems in the Coaching box and frustration and discipline issues on the field. All that aside though and the 23 players making up New Zealand’s Saturday squad would have many running for the hills even before the opening whistle. New Zealand know what is at stake, and there should be enough experience in the squad to be able to overlook whatever is not working in terms of the Coaching direction and to get this All Black squad back to a culture of winning high pressure matches. It’s one of the most well worn cliches in our sport, but nevertheless rings true every time – a wounded All Black side is something to be feared and that is certainly what this group of Men in Black Jerseys are.
In a game like this is he an asset or a liability?
All Black Hooker Dane Coles abilities as a backup winger are now the stuff of legend, along with his rather remarkable tackling ability – just ask South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth. However, lately it’s more his agent provocateur characteristics that seem to be getting everyone’s attention. He’s a great player make no mistake, but has started to feel that it also entitles him to be the master of the cheap shot. A lot of his off ball antics are clearly becoming highly irritating to both referees and opposing players. While provoking the opposition is seen as one of the unwritten rules of a front row forwards life, it can get taken too far and with Coles this certainly seems to be the norm these days. In a game where tempers and emotions are likely to be on a knife edge, keeping Coles in check on Saturday will be a key focus of All Black Captain Sam Cane – to ensure that a lack of discipline which proved to be such a large part of their undoing the last time these two sides met is not repeated.
A rather frightening Top 14 reunion in Newcastle
Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Facundo Isa all bring their Puma and French Top 14 pedigree to the party in Newcastle on Saturday. New Zealand themselves have a formidable outfit, but this Argentinian trio is something to behold. Sam Cane and Pablo Matera are no doubt looking forward to resuming the heated debates they had the last time they met, though Matera clearly had the more convincing argument. Can Facundo Isa contain the whirling dervish that is New Zealand’s Ardie Savea? We’d also argue that Marcos Kremer will probably ensure that Akira Ioane doesn’t remember his second Test Cap all that fondly. In short, this trio has no doubt contributed to All Black Coach Ian Foster’s lack of sleep this week.
Fatigue and the ultimate test of Argentinian depth
In that historic victory over the All Blacks, we saw something from Argentina that we rarely see – a complete 80 minute performance with the Pumas looking ready and raring to go for another 40. They were focused, they kept their shape and held on to a lead they never really looked like losing. Unlike New Zealand though, this will be their third Test match in a row, something that no matter how fit you are, must surely take a toll. As a result Coach Mario Ledesma has rung the changes, but refreshingly what it does appear to show is the depth Argentine rugby now has at its disposal. Jeronimo de la Fuente comes in at centre, and we’ve always felt he is one of Argentina’s most underrated players. However it’s the depth in the back three that really catches the eye. Santiago Carreras has had an outstanding debut at fullback this tournament, but when you can replace him with the likes of Emiliano Bofelli then you know your stocks are strong. But take a look at the selections on the wing, and when you can substitute the likes of Bautista Delguy and Juan Imhoff with names like Santiago Cordero and Ramiro Moyano, then your investments are clearly paying healthy dividends. Moyano in particular is one of our favorite Pumas players, and although he may not be the fastest man on the park, his ability to run lines that utterly confound defenses is quite legendary.
Too much too soon?
Our heart goes out to new All Black sensation Caleb Clarke. After his brilliant debut for New Zealand against Australia, first off the bench and then in the starting XV. Clarke has been put under the microscope by the press back home and accused of being a flash in the pan. We’d argue to the contrary. It’s precisely the threat he poses, that has reduced his effectiveness. If you watch his appearances of late, opposition teams are often using two players to mark and keep him in check. When you’re getting that kind of attention from your opponents defences, then that tells you two things. One you genuinely are the threat they think you are and secondly as a result you’re not really getting the opportunity to put those talents on display. If you watch the last encounter between New Zealand and Argentina, Clarke was essentially gang marked by the entire Argentinian team, so it was highly unlikely that he was going to have much impact on a game, as well as being put under enormous pressure any time he got near the ball. Expect more of the same this Saturday, especially as we are not convinced that Jordie Barrett is a winger, allowing Argentina to concentrate more resources on the unfortunate Clarke.
All we’re saying is give the guy a chance – albeit a chance he may not get in this match. The only time he may get an opportunity to silence his new found critics is if it’s a one on one between him and his Puma opposite number Ramiro Moyano, whose bulk doesn’t quite match up to the New Zealander even if his turn of pace does.
As much as we would dearly love to see history being made on Saturday, we have to side with pundits much wiser than ourselves who are handing New Zealand a fairly comprehensive victory as revenge for that slap in the face a fortnight ago from the Pumas. However, we said that last time and were absolutely delighted by the fact that we are still wiping the egg off our faces. Either way it has the potential to shape up as another Test match for the ages between two rather remarkable teams. We can’t wait, and while we may not be getting up at 4 in the morning to watch it live, the coffee will be brewing not much later than 6 as the suspense is already killing us. Here’s to what should be an enthralling contest and to finding out how many times you can shout the word “Vamos” in eighty minutes!
We hope to do a piece on the slightly more low key Autumn Nations Cup fixtures this weekend tomorrow, but the day job has proved rather demanding this week, so will do our best but can’t promise anything.