2018 Rugby Championships

Argentina vs New Zealand

Saturday 29th September 2018

Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 19.40 Local Time, 22.40 GMT; 00:40 (Sept 30) SA Time
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

The All Blacks arrive in Buenos Aires as a team on a mission. They were jolted by their loss to the Springboks in Wellington two weeks ago, and they are determined to re-establish their winning ways this weekend. Their pride has taken a knock, and that is never a good thing for the next team that has to face the men from New Zealand.

For all the talk about their concern about the strength of the Puma scrum, and their wariness for the unstructured approach of the home team, we also know that the All Blacks will have spent the last two weeks working out exactly what went wrong against the Springboks, and will be looking to  find fixes and test them against the Argentineans.

Coach Steve Hansen has used the loss against South Africa as a motivational tool as he lit a firecracker under his players in the last two weeks. He has told them that the next two Rugby Championships games are critical to their preparations, success even, in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. He has told them to treat this outing in Buenos Aires as not just another Rugby Championship match. They have to treat the game as if it’s a World Cup knockout game. And they must do exactly the same when they play the Springboks in Pretoria the following weekend.

Hansen has ramped up the pressure on his team in a deliberate attempt to put everyone in the team on edge. His selections for this Test suggest that he is reminding each and every player that they are not irreplaceable nor automatic selections for the All Blacks. Of the team that started the World Cup final against the Wallabies in London three years ago, only Sam Whitelock and Ben Smith have been included in the run-on team to play the Pumas.

When they suffered the 36-34 loss to the Springboks in Wellington, Hansen didn’t hold back. The game management had to be better, he said. He was clearly angered by the All Black brain explosion in the dying moments of that epic Test in Wellington, and he wanted his players to know that.

It might seem to be stretching it a bit to be talking about the World Cup, let alone the sudden-death playoffs, but the message is clear. If you eschew scoring chances in critical moments, you may well find yourself watching the World Cup final on television, and no All Black worth his salt wants to be doing that!

Over in the Argentinean camp they will be going about their preparations in the serene knowledge that they will be facing an edgy, somewhat rattled All Black outfit. They know that a home game in Buenos Aires has given them some advantage in recent months, and they will be looking to exploit that advantage.

They also know that they can rattle the All Blacks.

We will have to wait and see whether the All Blacks will use the loss against South Africa to their advantage, ramping up their focus and motivation, or whether the Pumas can insert a crowbar into the cracks exposed by the South Africans, and wedge those cracks open a little bit wider?

Damian McKenzie will miss this game as he has returned to New Zealand following the death of his maternal grandmother. Our thoughts are with the McKenzie family at this sad time. He will return to the All Black squad in South Africa.

Match-Day 23s

Argentina

Mario Ledesma has made two changes in personnel to his starting line-up that will take on New Zealand at Velez Sarsfield.

Ramiro Herrera and Bautista Ezcurra are the players coming in to replace Santiago Medrano and Ramiro Moyano.

Ezcurra’s inclusion means a reshuffle to the Pumas backline as Matias Moroni moves to left wing and Jeronimo De La Fuente switches to number 13.

Argentina also have Matias Orlando and Sebastian Cancelliere among their replacements.

New Zealand

There are six changes to the All Black team to take on the Argentine in Buenos Aires.

Scrum-half TJ Perenara will play in his 50th Test as he starts ahead of  Aaron Smith who moves to the bench.

Jordie Barrett, probably as punishment for that wayward throw-in that gave Willie le Roux the opportunity to score in Wellington, has been left out of the matchday 23 altogether. Ben Smith returns to the fullback position as Waisake Naholo is recalled into the 14 jersey.

Sonny Bill Williams makes his comeback at inside centre, while Ryan Crotty shifts one out to the 13 jersey for this game.

The matchday 23 also sees a change in the front-row, with Ofa Tuungafasi moving to the starting tighthead position, in for Owen Franks, and new All Black Angus Ta’avao set to make his All Blacks Test debut from the bench.

Shannon Frizell is at blindside flanker and Luke Whitelock at number eight. The squad will be captained by 103-Test lock Samuel Whitelock.

Richie Mo’unga and Anton Lienert-Brown provide back cover from the bench.

Thoughts

Three weeks ago the Pumas tried to take on the All Blacks at their own game, playing the open, free-flowing attacking style favoured by the men from New Zealand. Whilst this approach received much favour from the New Zealand media, with plenty of praise for the spectacle and the excitement the game provided, it was also an approach that played directly into the All Blacks hands.

The All Blacks have perfected the transition from defence into attack to such a degree that they welcome teams that come at them with a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude. They know that the open, unstructured style will provide the opportunities, the moments when the men in black can snaffle the ball and launch into a telling counter attack.

If one looks back at every game the All Blacks have played and won in the last two years, one quickly sees that their ability to counter-punch off the backfoot is one of their strongest attacking weapons in a team that has so much running and striking power in every position. In each of the 2018 Tests against France, and again in both of this year’s Tests against Australia, and again in the first Test against the Pumas, the opposition put plenty of pressure on the All Blacks in the opening 30 minutes of each game. Yet in each of those games we saw the All Blacks launch countless counter-attacks from deep within their own territory, often close to their line, and carry the ball straight back into the opposition red zone.

Time and again, that counter-attacking pressure, coupled to massive defence, served to wear down the opposition, until the All Blacks could strike, often scoring a try in the dying moments of the first half to give themselves the psychological edge as the teams trooped off for the half-time break.

In the three games that the All Blacks lost in the 2017/2018 period, to the British & Irish Lions, to the Wallabies, and then to the Springboks, the opposition avoided the attempting to play the game “All Blacks style” and chose to play a more direct, physical game that targeted shutting down the All Blacks in their own space, rather than trying to chase them down when they were going forward.

Two weeks ago the Springboks focussed on shutting down the “transition space” close to the breakdowns, avoiding trying to flood the breakdown with players and preferring to fold around the edges of the contact point and deprive the All Blacks of that moment when they can move the “hot” ball into space.

If the Pumas have watched, analysed, and learned from that Springbok effort, they will have a far better chance of beating the All Blacks than they will by trying to fight fire with fire.

The Argentineans need to play clever, focussed rugby if they want to win.

Sadly, this is totally contrary to the way they play the game, either as the Jaguares in Super Rugby or as the Pumas in Test match rugby.

They like to play the razzle-dazzle game, with counter-attack off pouched ball as their primary attacking weapon. They like to feed off the scraps, they love the unstructured game, and they prey on the bobbled ball.

They are at their most dangerous when the game opens up and becomes scrappy, rather than when it is a disciplined, structured game.

Equally sadly, it is in those moments when the All Blacks are at their ominous best.

If the Pumas attempt to open it up, and they will, the All Black defence will remain as solid as it always is, then we are likely to see the All Black machine suck up the pressure, wait for the inevitable moment when the Argies lose the ball through a wayward pass or a scrambled breakdown, and then the All Black counter-attack will kick in.

The All Blacks will know that they have to shut down and contain Nicolas Sanchez by depriving him of time and space, forcing him to kick rather than run, which will play straight into the counter-attacking back three of the visitors.

If the Pumas have learned from the South Africans, they have a chance, but one wonders whether they can change the way they play the game?

Prediction

I am struggling to see the Argentineans containing a motivated, angry All Black outfit. Their single biggest hope must be that the All Blacks will be tentative and unsure of themselves, jittery perhaps, after their loss to the Springboks, but this is as unlikely as snow in the Sahara.

There is simply too much All Black pride at stake for a surprise loss to the Pumas.

The All Blacks, by 15 points or more.

Teams:

Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Matias Orlando, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.