Preview: Argentina v New Zealand
Preview: Argentina v New ZealandSHARE
The All Blacks will be in for a much tougher test than last year’s corresponding clash when they take on the Pumas in La Plata on Saturday.
Almost 12 months ago to the day, the All Blacks put the Pumas to the sword 54-15 at Estadio Ciudad de la Plata to wrap up the inaugural Rugby Championship title with a game to spare.
At 32-8, the match – and silverware – was already in the bag at half-time, but the visitors were in a merciless mood and scored 22 points after the break to underline their dominance.
It was the only lopsided loss of the Pumas’ otherwise promising debut campaign and came as a bitter disappointment for the Argentine after their gallant display in the teams’ previous meeting in Wellington, when they trailed just 5-6 at the break and ultimately went down 5-21.
Like last year, the teams sit at the opposite ends of the table heading into their return fixture on Argentine soil, but much has changed since their 2012 encounter.
Last year, the Pumas naively threw the ball around and attempted to take on the world champions at their own game. Three weeks ago, the wiser, more experienced Argentina side tightened up their game and denied the All Blacks a four-try bonus point in the hosts' 28-13 win in Hamilton.
The Pumas were aided by inclement weather in the Waikato Stadium clash and they look set to welcome back their ‘ally’ this weekend, with rain expected to fall on Saturday night.
The challenge is thus an intriguing one for the All Blacks, who will have to overcome a more tactically astute Pumas side and the elements to stay at the top of the log.
Even without the likes of star duo Richie McCaw and Dan Carter – the latter also missed last year’s match – the All Blacks should come away with a comfortable win, but these factors certainly add extra spice to this contest.
All Black assistant coach Ian Foster insists they are wise to the fact that it won’t be another cakewalk in La Plata.
“We’re certainly not expecting last year’s game,” Foster said.
“You look at what they have done in the last two to three weeks, it shows their growth.”
Indeed, the Pumas have bounced back well following their 13-73 first-round annihilation by the Springboks in Soweto.
Their most profound improvement has been on defence and saw them concede just 22 points against the Springboks, 28 points against the All Blacks and 14 points against the Wallabies in their last three fixtures; credible stats for the 10th-ranked side in the world against the three perennial superpowers of world rugby.
Foster acknowledged the Pumas’ defensive progression and character when faced with adversity and believes an ardent home crowd will serve as a 16th man for the underdogs.
“They are very tough to break down,” Foster said.
“For us, this is a real and tough Test match.
“The way they responded in that second game against South Africa [was notable].
“The way they hit the road and had two very good performances, they will come home with a big statement to make.”
Players to watch:
For Argentina: The halfback pairing of Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez will have to ensure the Pumas play in the right areas of the field. Their accuracy will be crucial to the Pumas’ cause both tactically and mentally. Aimless kicks would demoralise the hosts, who will have limited possession, and offer the visitors attacking opportunities. In that regard, wings Juan Imhoff and Lucas González Amorosino will have to chase hard and contest in the air all game. Pablo Matera will look to continue his good form while Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe will as always be in the thick of the action across the park.
For New Zealand: Aaron Cruden has been fast-tracked straight into the starting line-up and although he will share the responsibilities with Beauden Barrett, it will be interesting to see how he goes in the first half when the Pumas will be at their most fierce. Cruden wore the No.10 jersey in last year’s match but this time around the conditions will demand a more territory-based game from the pivots, which will give Cruden another opportunity to show he’s more than just an attacking flyhalf. Sam Cane filled the void at No.7 with aplomb against the Springboks and will simultaneously want to give coach Steve Hansen more peace of mind and prove his worth with another accomplished outing. After once again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, Ma’a Nonu’s discipline will come under intense scrutiny while Liam Messam will be a key figure in the gainline battle.
Head to head: Two of the form players of the competition will be locked in a straight shootout as Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Kieran Read collide. Both are complete eighthmen and leaders in their respective packs. They will test each other in every facet of the game. The key clash in the tight five will be that of Patricio Albacete and Sam Whitelock. The return of Albacete from an injury he sustained in the opening round is invaluable for the underdogs as he brings world-class line-out skills, vast experience and added leadership to the side. Especially in wet weather, he’s proficiency in the line-out, driving mauls and at the restart will be a major boost. He will have his work cut out for him in the form No.5 of the competition in Whitelock. Finally, a battle of wits will play out in midfield between Marcelo Bosch and Conrad Smith. Bosch’s main objective will be to stay on Smith like white on rice to negate the wily veteran’s sublime play-making expertise.
2013: New Zealand won 28-13, Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 54-15, La Plata
2012: New Zealand won 21-5, Wellington
2011: New Zealand won 33-10, Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 25-19, Buenos Aires
2004: New Zealand won 41-7, Hamilton
2001: New Zealand won 24-21, Buenos Aires
2001: New Zealand won 67-19, Christchurch
1997: New Zealand won 62-10, Hamilton
1997: New Zealand won 93-8, Wellington
Prediction: The expected wet weather will dilute the All Blacks’ attacking potency and force them to adopt a more direct approach, which should keep the scoreline down. The conditions won’t favour the Pumas as much as it will benefit them, and with four points between the All Blacks and the second-placed Springboks ahead of next weekend’s possible decider in Johannesburg, it could also boost the Boks’ chances of dethroning the New Zealanders. There was always going to be one clear winner in this match, so the focus will shift to whether or not the All Blacks will be able to secure the all-important bonus point. The visitors have the pack to achieve this goal, but they will have to break the proud Pumas psychologically to get the job done, and that will be difficult to do in front of their home crowd. The All Blacks will lose out on a bonus point but seal a comfortable win – by 17 points.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Lucas González Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (captain), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Julio Farías Cabello, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23 Horacio Agulla.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 1 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
Date: Saturday, September 28
Venue: Estadio Ciudad de la Plata, La Plata
Kick-off: 19.40 (22.40 GMT; 11.40 Sunday, September 29 NZ time)
Expected weather: Cloudy with a 60% chance of rain and 20% chance of thunderstorms. A high of 13°C and a low of 11°C with an 18km/h NNE wind.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld