Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from New Zealand v Argentina as Pumas continue to impress

·6-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Following a 25-18 victory for Argentina over New Zealand in their Rugby Championship clash, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Christchurch.

The top line

Boom! The Argentinian machine keeps rolling forward as Los Pumas secured their first ever win on New Zealand soil with a defensive display right out of the top drawer as they overcame the All Blacks 25-18 in Christchurch.

Another immaculate display off the tee by Emiliano Boffelli saw him net six penalties and convert Juan Martin Gonzalez’s try as he hit 7/7 on the evening. Whilst his contribution was invaluable, including one monster 58-metre kick, the Pumas’ win was based upon one of the finest defensive displays seen this season. They managed a massive 149 tackles at a completion rate of 96% for the evening, with Marcos Kremer, Julian Montoya and Pablo Matera becoming walls in blue and white that New Zealand simply couldn’t break down.

New Zealand started well with a rolling maul try from the impressive Samisoni Taukei’aho followed by a brilliant move down the left touchline that saw Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea to send Caleb Clarke scampering over into the corner.

But it was the sheer physicality of Argentina on the gain line that won them this match – dominance that saw Sam Cane yanked off after 60 minutes as he and his All Black back-rowers all came off second best.

Make no mistake, Los Pumas are at the top of the Rugby Championship tonight for one reason and one reason alone – they’re the best team in it right now.

On the defensive

Argentina’s speed off the line in the rush defence is as good as any side in the world. Most importantly, they blitz almost with a three man pod in midfield, with the two outside men targeting either the pass or the offload in a suffocating ‘birds wing’ shape. When you have men the size of Kremer and Tomas Lavanini it’s a simple matter of getting them organised and executing well and that’s exactly what Argentina did all night.

Add to this the jackal ability of Montoya (eight completed turnovers in his three tests in the Rugby Championship this season) and of Matera, then if the big guy hits the carrier static, the second man in has a clear line to poach and that’s the basis of the Argentinian game.

They also know that any penalty they win from their own ten metre line forward is almost a given, with Boffelli now having a career 90% completion record, moving ahead of the great Dan Biggar’s 89%.

Los Pumas are a wonderful side – enough fire power to score tries, handling from all positions of the field and a defence that’s as good as any around. Beware world, they are coming to the 2023 World Cup in form that rivals that of France or Ireland.

All Black basics

New Zealand could be happy with a number of their basics tonight – they won the set-piece at scrum and lineout, gained parity in the air and looked to play with far more structure in phase play than we are normally used to. A word too for Ethan de Groot, who was outstanding for the second Test running, and his understudy George Bower defined impact with some big carries in the second half.

But they really struggled to unlock the Puma defence, and largely the reason for this was how close to the gainline they tried to execute passes and carries. When a blitz is firing, it has natural forward momentum- the All Blacks cannot possibly match that power if they’re starting runs from two or three metres behind their own gainline.

The match cried out for one of their brilliant wingers to come back against the grain at pace and from deep, but that rarely if ever happened. Time and time again the Kiwis banged into a defensive wall with short runs or carries, never really committing enough defenders to earn the right to go wide with numerical advantages.

Nevertheless, on the upside, their scrum and lineout went well and their rolling maul hurt Argentina a few times. Jason Ryan has certainly bolted on the basics, but in doing so it seems the All Blacks have forgotten the basic DNA of their attack – their free spirit running from deep with ball in hand.

Welcome to Christchurch

For the last seven years, we’ve rarely heard the word Christchurch feature on commentary, a travesty given the contribution of the city to global rugby. It is one of those cities that’s simply synonymous with rugby and whilst the Orangetheory Stadium may not have the majesty of the old Jade Stadium, it was wonderful to see rugby back in New Zealand’s unofficial South Island capital.

Given the legacy the city holds, New Zealand would have preferred a better inauguration for this season, but the quant venue has a magnificent surface and stands that are close enough to the touchline to make a real difference to the atmosphere of the game.

In short, it was wonderful to see rugby back in one of its absolute homelands and long may Canterbury again host tests.

Work-ons

New Zealand’s win v South Africa seems a long two weeks ago. The euphoria has died down, the emotional intensity has worn off slightly and those two factors, together with that Argentinian defence, saw New Zealand take one step backwards after their massive strides v the Springboks.

However, they have sorted some basic defensive, set-piece and aerial issues out – things that were simply preventing them from winning any game, and for the second Test running, they gained marginal superiority in both scrum and line out.

But in attack, it was literally phase play without thought – just popping pass after pass in the same direction against a brilliant coast-to-coast wall. One task is sorted – getting their attack functioning is their next.

For Los Pumas, they’ll be worried about scrum time and how Joel Sclavi stood up versus New Zealand’s best player, De Groot. When Eduardo Bello came on, things were better but it’s almost unheard of for the Argentinian eight to get stuffed as they were tonight. Lineouts were messy and greater focus is needed on executing the calls quickly, but these are minor points and ones to tinker. Argentina are on a roll and if they can improve the areas mentioned, they’ll kick on to become an even better side.

READ MORE: Rugby Championship: Outstanding Argentina stun the All Blacks to put Ian Foster back under pressure

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