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

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

After Ian Foster received his stay of execution from New Zealand Rugby, it is now up to he and his players to prove the governing body made the right decision.

It was not a call which was particularly well greeted by All Blacks supporters, who have effectively been on Foster’s back since his appointment, but it was one that almost had to be made following their victory over the Springboks.

That win was comfortably the team’s best under the guidance of the 57-year-old, but the big question is whether they can back it up. Was that triumph a mere one-off or does it display a side that will, indeed, be challengers for the 2023 World Cup?

To start that journey, they simply have to beat Argentina. A defeat in Christchurch and the knives will once again be out for the head coach and NZ Rugby. But it must also be backed up by a performance which continues the good work from the previous Rugby Championship encounter.

Contrary to what everyone – other than the All Blacks themselves – believed would happen, they fronted up, played with a discernible game plan and identity, and deservedly took the win at Ellis Park, but it was only one match.

Argentina is another and very different contest and, although they are much weaker on paper than the defending world champions, they will provide a contrasting challenge.

Michael Cheika has taken the reins after Mario Ledesma’s tenure ended in veritable disaster and has gone about improving the basics of their game. The set-piece, surprisingly a real issue under the former hooker, is much sturdier, while the defence and kicking continue to improve.

With those aspects all in evidence, they utterly dominated the Wallabies in Round Two of the competition. Los Pumas have developed a superb spine in the pack, which has laid a solid platform in their opening couple of matches, and given their speedsters some good ball to work with.

The Argentines have a plethora of talented outside backs but they aren’t quite in the realm of the Kiwis, whose sheer ability and depth is unmatched.

It is at half-back where the Argentines could really be exposed, however, especially at fly-half where usual wing/full-back Santiago Carreras has taken over from Nicolas Sanchez.

Although the Gloucester man has performed well, this will easily be his biggest challenge so far in his Test career. If he can step up to the mark and control the game nicely, Argentina will stay in the contest, but it is difficult to see anything other than a New Zealand win.

Last time they met

The All Blacks earned another comfortable victory over Argentina, emerging 36-13 triumphant in Brisbane. It was at least slightly better for Los Pumas, who had succumbed 39-0 and 38-0 over the previous couple of matches against Foster’s men, as they actually managed to score a few points, but they were still comprehensively outplayed. Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara and Tupou Vaa’i all scored first-half tries for the Kiwis, with Jordie Barrett adding three conversions and a penalty. It gave them a 24-3 advantage at the break – Emiliano Boffelli responding for the Argentinians – before Samisoni Taukei’aho effectively put the result beyond doubt early in the second period. Boffelli did cross the whitewash for the Pumas, but the All Blacks had the final word through Vaa’i.

What they said

All Blacks full-back Jordie Barrett is preparing himself for an aerial bombardment from Argentina this Saturday.

“They’ve scored quite a few tries from kick pressure and guys getting up and retaining the ball,” he told reporters.

“We spent a lot of time preparing for South Africa catching contestables, but I think we’ll have to prepare the same for the Argentinians, if not more.”

Barrett also rates a number of other aspects of Los Pumas’ style.

“They’ve got some outstanding athletes, great on their feet and awesome in the air, so it’s going to be a big week for the back three,” he said. “They’re a physical and passionate team, and also Dave Kidwell [is] there for their defence, so they’re a quality side.

“They can score tries from anywhere, and a lot of the time it is, I say, unconventional in the most respectful way.

“They’ve got some outstanding footwork, particularly midfield and outside backs, and their forwards have a good short-passing game now.

“I’ve seen a lot of variation in their game where their props and locks and hookers are tipping and throwing inside balls. They’ve got a diverse game plan we have to come prepared for.”

Meanwhile, Argentina boss Cheika believes that Foster will be ‘loving’ his time as All Blacks head coach, despite being under significant pressure.

“It’s not work at all, he’s the coach of New Zealand, one of the best countries in the world at rugby,” Cheika told The Breakdown.

“He’ll be loving it, even when it’s tough mate, it doesn’t matter. That comes with the territory of footy. It gets tough.

“It’s a brilliant position to have, it’s a great honour if you are in it, and you love it, you get to go out and be involved in footy every day.

“It doesn’t matter how tough it gets, it’s part of the game, just like when you were a player.”

Players to watch

After their impressive victory over the Springboks, Foster quite rightly saw no reason to change the starting XV. Games with Argentina, especially at home, would usually give the All Blacks an opportunity to experiment but they need wins and performances rather than squad depth at the moment and the team selection reflects that. Although the head coach has earned a stay of execution, he is still under pressure and the same goes for captain Sam Cane. The flanker was excellent at Ellis Park and he needs to build on that effort in Christchurch on Saturday,

Alongside Cane in the back-row is Shannon Frizell, another player that has something to prove. Blindside has been a problem position, with New Zealand unable to find that balance, but Frizell has the qualities most suited to the slot. He is a big and powerful unit, which makes him a potent force in the tighter exchanges, but the 28-year-old is also athletic and skilful, allowing him to be equally as effective in the wider channels. He hasn’t quite displayed it consistently at the highest level, but he now has a chance to cement his spot in the XV.

Further forward, Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax are the starting props having gone well in Johannesburg. They are both very good scrummagers, with De Groot particularly highly rated, and will look to lay a solid platform in the set-piece. Also watch out for Fletcher Newell, who was superb on debut, when he comes on at tighthead and fellow replacement Stephen Perofeta. The playmaker takes the place of Blues team-mate Beauden Barrett on the bench following a superb Super Rugby Pacific season and will come on at either fly-half or full-back.

The All Blacks should ultimately have too much quality for the visitors but, if the Argentines are to challenge the three-time world champions, they will need their big players to step up. It means a lot of the onus is on Pablo Matera and Julian Montoya, two players that are of a genuine world-class standard. They are both important ball-carriers but also do plenty on defence, with Montoya especially one of the best breakdown exponents in the game.

The hooker also has a vital job in the set-piece and will look to link with Tomas Lavanini and Marcos Kremer in the lineout. Lavanini produced one of his best Test performances against Australia in San Juan, playing with both physicality and, most importantly, control. Kremer is another hothead – albeit not quite as thuggish – and those two will be important, providing they can find the right balance in their game.

Behind the scrum, Emiliano Boffelli has been in outstanding form in this year’s Rugby Championship. His place-kicking is supreme while the talented outside back has also been dominant in the air, which is absolutely key in modern day Test rugby. Boffelli is equally dangerous when in space and will cause the New Zealanders problems should Los Pumas’ forwards do their jobs.

Main head-to-head

We like a lot about this Argentina outfit but there is one huge concern and that is in the playmaking positions, where they are placing their trust in Santiago Carreras at fly-half. Carreras is a wonderful talent but most of his rugby has been at either full-back or on the wing. Although he performed superbly in the second round of the Rugby Championship against Australia, this is another level up. The 24-year-old will provide a significant running threat but the question is whether he can control the game well enough over the 80 minutes.

That is certainly not something his opposite number, Richie Mo’unga, struggles with. The Crusaders star comes into the match off arguably his best display in international rugby and has put himself ahead of Beauden Barrett in fly-half pecking order. Mo’unga dictated play beautifully against South Africa last time out and his all-round game is certainly in better shape than Barrett’s. Unlike the Blues player, the 28-year-old is a much more reliable kicker, both out of hand and off the tee, and will hope to just find that consistency over the next few weeks.

Prediction

Argentina look to have improved significantly under Cheika, particularly in regards to the basics of the game, but they will find it very tough against a somewhat rejuvenated All Blacks outfit. Los Pumas may well keep it close for a while but the hosts will eventually pull away and claim a relatively comfortable win. New Zealand by 18 points.

Previous results

2021: New Zealand won 36-13 in Brisbane
2021: New Zealand won 39-0 on the Gold Coast
2020: New Zealand won 38-0 in Newcastle
2020: Argentina won 25-15 in Sydney
2019: New Zealand won 20-16 in Buenos Aires
2018: New Zealand won 35-17 in Buenos Aires
2018: New Zealand won 46-24 in Nelson
2017: New Zealand won 36-10 in Buenos Aires
2017: New Zealand won 39-22 in New Plymouth

The teams

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Quinn Tupaea

Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Matias Orlando, 11 Lucio Cinti, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Joel Sclavi, 2 Julian Montoya (c), 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Santiago Cordero

Date: Saturday, August 27
Venue: Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 BST, 07:45 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

READ MORE: Rugby Championship preview: Wallabies to continue dominance over Springboks in Australia

The article Rugby Championship preview: All Blacks’ revival to continue with victory over Argentina appeared first on Planetrugby.com.