We have to confess to finding this a very painful post to write. As regular readers of this site know, we have been and still are huge fans of Argentinian rugby. As a result, imagine how it saddens us especially after last year, to see one of our fan favorites appear to be so adrift. Argentina’s 39-0 drubbing last Sunday at the hands of the All Blacks, had us looking away from our TV screens in horror for much of the eighty minutes. Where was the side that got their first victory over the All Blacks last year? We saw the first warnings when in their first match of 2021 against Romania, the Eastern Europeans (who themselves once had a proud tradition) almost wrote themselves into the history books at Argentina’s expense. After reflecting on their successful tour to Wales where they drew the first match and won the second, the reality of the fact that it was only against a Welsh B side is rapidly starting to sink in. Their dismal tour of South Africa where they looked a shadow of last year’s side, and then last Sunday’s nightmare have left us in little doubt that this is a Pumas team that for reasons best known to itself is struggling to fire a shot, despite being blessed with the type of talent that would make many head coaches’ eyes water.
It wasn’t all bad news last weekend, as for much of the first half the Pumas defense was outstanding and managed to keep the hordes wearing black jerseys at bay. However, too much of that defense was having to be done in their own 22. Furthermore, there was little if any attack and when they did it was so error strewn, that it had little if any effect on proceedings. Their kicking game was also off the mark, and traditional go to man, fly half Nicholas Sanchez much like his South African counterpart Handre Pollard would have struggled to hit a barn door last Sunday. This is a good team make no mistake and is blessed with some genuine world class talent, but something is clearly not clicking for them this year and we are at a loss to explain it, and it would seem so are they. We’re really hoping for some redemption this weekend, but to be honest it’s hard to see it against an All Black team hurtling forwards at a rate of knots while the Pumas seem to be going backwards at a similar pace.
As for New Zealand there really isn’t much to say, apart from the fact that they look set to run away with this year’s competition. Many of the weaknesses and chinks in their armor we saw last year seem to have been addressed. They may not yet be the finished product but they are certainly not looking too far off it, and the new talent in their ranks seems to be settling in very effectively. We may still be two years away from the next global showdown in France, but New Zealand are already looking like they will be the team that everybody needs to get the measure of if they are to get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup.
A welcome return of one of the All Blacks best
New Zealand will be expecting big things from Joe Moody as he makes his first appearance back from injury this year. We saw his hulking menace on the field last week as a water carrier, but he will be relishing the opportunity to carry a ball as opposed to a bottle this Saturday. A big bruising ball carrier who is a master of the dark arts of the scrum, Moody will bring a great deal of experienced grunt to New Zealand’s efforts at the coal face. In a front row already brimming with capable talent expect to see Moody add another edge to it, that should make the Pumas efforts to contain it even more difficult.
Just another Kiwi danger man
Hoskins Sototu is a name we expect to hear a lot of in New Zealand’s buildup to the next World Cup. He’ll have his hands full with the equally capable Pablo Matera for the Pumas, but Sototu’s star is rising rapidly. He is particularly lethal in the loose, but equally capable of putting in the big hits when needed. Alongside Ethan Blackadder and the irrepressible Ardie Savea who returns as Captain, Sototu will make this All Black back row a force to be reckoned with. The Pumas Marcos Kremer was one of the few standout players last weekend for Argentina and his tussle with Ethan Blackadder will really see how well the new All Black flanker can handle the intensity of Test Rugby. In short, if you’re looking for the most action on the park on Saturday expect to find it here.
Pumas Coach Ledesma decides to take a Kiwi approach to filling the 10/15 jersey
New Zealand have been able to interchange Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett between the fly half and fullback roles, and it would appear that Pumas Coach Mario Ledesma is attempting a similar experiment. Carreras is by trade a fullback at senior level, but at junior level was more often than not seen sporting the ten jersey. Indeed much of his rugby education as a youth was as a pivot. However, it’s a bit of a gamble asking him to do it at Test level against a side who are rapidly establishing themselves as the standard bearer of international rugby once more. In addition, Damian McKenzie is a regular fly half for the Chiefs and has donned the 10 jersey for the All Blacks on numerous occasions. If Carreras who we regard as a highly talented fullback, passes the test, then Argentina will have a key resource in their own buildup to France 2023, as they desperately need to find a reliable understudy for Nicolas Sanchez who is out with injury this week.
New Zealand’s surplus of riches
New Zealand truly is spoilt for choice at 10 unlike any other country in Test Rugby with the possible exception of France. Both countries have three world class fly halves at their disposal and all of them have unique play styles that compliment their sides attack and defense abilities in different ways. Richie Mo’unga may be the first choice so far this year but Beauden Barrett consistently demonstrates why he was World Player of the Year, twice in a row. Meanwhile New Zealand’s favorite maverick Damian McKenzie has the kind of impish freestyle game in the vein of Scotland’s Finn Russell. McKenzie gets to start New Zealand’s efforts against the Pumas this Saturday, while Barrett keeps the bench warm till needed. With these two gentlemen pulling the strings for New Zealand, our heart really does go out to Carreras and his replacement Domingo Miotti who have yet to really shine under this kind of examination.
Argentina need more than just his giant boot
The Pumas utility back who normally plies his trade at fullback, made us consistently sit up and take notice when he made his debut for Argentina in 2015. However, we have to say that since then we’ve struggled to really notice him in the blue and white stripes. He’s still a great player make no mistake, but somehow we just haven’t seen as much of him and his abilities as we would have liked. If ever Argentina needed what he can bring to a match, then Saturday is the day. His monster boot is consistently useful to the Pumas for getting them out of jail as well as long range kicks at goal, but it’s his attacking abilities with ball in hand that we really need to see more of on Saturday. He’ll be up against one of New Zealand’s finest new talents Will Jordan, and Argentina will be relying on Boffelli to get the ball behind the Kiwi youngster and provide some powerful kick and chase ability. In any aerial battles providing he can cut down on his handling errors which seem to have plagued him lately, our money is on the 6’2” Argentinian.
Like we said in the previous post, we’re hoping for a miracle tomorrow for a Pumas side that is struggling so far to make sense of 2021. The talent, passion and commitment is there 110% but the execution is sadly lagging well behind. New Zealand meanwhile just keep notching it up another gear with every game. Although this is perhaps the most experimental New Zealand side we’ve seen so far this year for a Test match of this intensity, it’s hard to see the All Blacks coming unstuck against an equally experimental Argentinian side, especially in key positions.
So on a wing and a prayer we wish the Pumas all the luck in the world tomorrow, and know they’ll give it their all and, as a result make it a Test match worth watching whatever the final outcome. As for New Zealand we’ll sit back and take notes on further developments within a team that we have a hunch we may well be seeing in the final of the next World Cup.
Enjoy the rugby everyone and stay safe!