Rugby Championship: Five talking points ahead of All Blacks v Pumas as Ian Foster and New Zealand look to build momentum

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

Round Three of the Rugby Championship sees Argentina travel to Christchurch to face New Zealand, with both teams coming into the game off the back of a win.

Planet Rugby breaks down five talking points ahead of an intriguing clash.

Ian Foster’s job still under threat

The All Blacks head coach may well be remaining in situ for the time being but a defeat on Saturday could change all that. Despite keeping his job, the pressure is still on Foster, especially from many supporters, who very much believe the outstanding Crusaders boss Scott Robertson should be in charge.

New Zealand do have a much easier schedule from now until the end of the year, starting with two home games against Los Pumas, but that comes with its own problems. They should really get through to the final game of 2022 unbeaten where they will play their toughest opponent in England, so any losses in that run will see Foster’s position scrutinised once more.

But even a victory over Argentina isn’t guaranteed. It certainly looks far more likely than prior to the second Springboks Test, with the All Blacks going on to produce their best performance under the 57-year-old, but this Argentinian outfit is looking very competitive and they have the quality to stun the hosts. It is highly unlikely to happen but the Kiwis are still vulnerable.

Strong All Blacks team to build on previous win

Matches with Argentina would usually be a chance for New Zealand to experiment, knowing that a win was effectively guaranteed whoever they fielded, but Foster needs to build some momentum. Their victory over the Springboks hinted at a side that could put themselves in a position to challenge for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and, as a result, the head coach wants some continuity.

There are still some areas of concern, especially in the front five where the props are relatively callow and, by contrast, Sam Whitelock is the wrong side of 30. Whitelock has been on the decline over the last few years but he rolled back the years with his performance at Ellis Park two weeks ago.

Can the great second-row last until the World Cup and are Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax good enough to compete with the best props in the world? Those three have certainly done enough to keep their places and this next match against Argentina provides another indicator as to where they are.

Equally interesting is the partnership at centre, a consistent issue for New Zealand since the retirement of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. David Havili and Rieko Ioane were both excellent in Johannesburg and another good couple of performances could see them be first choice going into next year.

Argentina on the up under Michael Cheika

The 55-year-old was rightly criticised over the last couple of years during his time in charge of the Wallabies, but there is no doubt that he is a very smart coach. Cheika was not wholly responsible for Australia’s issues – they had and still have a number of problems to sort out as a rugby-playing country – but his stubbornness and refusal to accept when something wasn’t working didn’t help.

Taking the role at Los Pumas seems to have given Cheika a new lease of life, however, and he has quickly gone about ironing out a few of the many flaws they had under Mario Ledesma. For starters, the set-piece is much better while they look far less chaotic with and without the ball. The South Americans still attempt to play with pace but there is just a bit better structure in place, which is making them much more effective.

They still have plenty to work on but there is a strong spine to the team, the players seem to know their roles and as a result that is bringing out some world-class performances from a few individuals. It is even allowing talented but previously unreliable players, such as Tomas Lavanini, to thrive and Cheika must take some credit for that, but Saturday’s match will tell us more about their true progress.

Chance for Crusaders stars to shine on home turf

New Zealand haven’t played in Christchurch since 2016 so it will be a special occasion for the Crusaders-based All Blacks when they face Argentina at Orangetheory Stadium in the Rugby Championship. In total, five players start with another three on the bench against Los Pumas on Saturday.

Only Whitelock featured in that game with South Africa six years ago, scoring a try as they went away with a dominant 41-13 triumph over the Boks. It will no doubt be another special day for the lock but especially his team-mates, who run out at their home ground for the first time at international level.

A few of them also have plenty to prove. Will Jordan has shown glimpses but he, like the rest of the outside backs, have struggled to really be consistently involved, while his aerial work has come under scrutiny. He was excellent against South Africa, however, and will look to repeat that effort this weekend.

The 24-year-old was also helped by the Richie Mo’unga-Havili partnership, who took their Crusaders link into the Test arena. Mo’unga was particularly impressive at Ellis Park and the control he had on the game very much benefited Havili, Jordan and the rest of the backline.

Just how good is Thomas Gallo?

On the early evidence of his Test career, very. His try-scoring prowess is impressive, with four in seven internationals, but obviously props aren’t judged on that. It is mostly about the scrum, a real issue for Argentina over the past few years, but even on that account, he has stood out. Against the destructive Taniela Tupou, Gallo very much had the edge and gave his backs front foot ball throughout his time on the field.

When you add that to his ball-carrying ability and work rate around the field, Los Pumas have an exceptionally talented loosehead on their hands. Gallo has enjoyed a fine couple of seasons for Benetton in Italy but it is fair to say he wasn’t well known by the wider rugby public. However, he is starting to make a name for himself now and it will be fascinating to watch him against an All Blacks front-row which handled themselves well in South Africa.

READ MORE: Rugby Championship preview: All Blacks’ revival to continue with victory over Argentina

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