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Sunday, November 29, 2020

All Blacks lose back-to-back games, this time beaten fair and square by Los Pumas

A crowd of 10,000 watched the Argentines at the Bankwest Stadium in Sydney hand out a neat demolition of the All Blacks - who now for the first time have suffered back to back losses since the start of the decade.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Updated: November 17, 2020 3:29:29 pm
New Zealand's Caleb Clarke and Ardie Savea, right, react following the Tri-Nations rugby test between Argentina and New Zealand at Bankwest Stadium (Source: AP)

402 days. That was the length of Argentina’s absence from Rugby Tests. But when they came to Australia for the Tri-Nations, taking on the All Blacks in their first match since resumption, Los Pumas pulled one right stunner out of the hat shocking the Kiwis 25-15 – their first ever win over the celebrated outfit since they first played in 1985.

A crowd of 10,000 watched the Argentines at the Bankwest Stadium in Sydney hand out a neat demolition of the All Blacks – who now for the first time have suffered back to back losses since the start of the decade. The Kiwis were edged out by the Wallabies 24-22 in Brisbane earlier.

Coming out of Cold Storage

Pumas were expected to be rusty and under-cooked having not played a game all of this year. Moreover they were the third wheel that could easily slide off in the competition with the two glamorous trans-Tasman sides expected to catch their breathers at the expense of the smaller Southern Hemisphere side. The All Blacks had had a nice rev-up with four Tests against the Wallabies in the run-up.

Half the Pumas were in isolation for months on end and the other half was carted back from Europe where they were stuck in the summer of the pandemic. Talk was rife about a 40-pointer game, and such All Black bluster is routine in rugby where the Kiwis remain the most scorchingly aggressive side.

“Everything is hard in Argentina and at the moment it is one of the toughest times in our country so we want to show people that if you fight and you work hard, you get what you fight for,” captain and hustling winger Pablo Matera said after congratulations poured in for rugby’s biggest tale in a nearly wiped out year.

A dozen Pumas had tested positive for Covid at a camp in Argentina before setting off. They were in fact forced to step in for Springboks, who withdrew with safety concerns, knowing their money coffers were depleted and they needed this gig. Several Europe-based players took up jobs in the summer.

Pumas make no mistakes

The ABs tend to be so smugly set in their attacking superiority that they come undone when they don’t have the ball to show off their sorcery with. Under Ian Foster, they took off from where they have never left – the place where the slightest of inevitable mistakes result in them swooping down like graceful eagles and finish off their try-scoring. Except, Pumas offered them no mistakes to pounce upon.

For a side coming out of deep international slumber, the Pumas were disciplined in their defense, with their forward pack bulldozing through the flair and the flanks speedy as ever while not allowing a turnover ball.

“Almost to the letter, the Pumas followed a well-established blueprint to upset the world powerhouse. Some would argue Eddie Jones’ England devised the plan at the 2019 World Cup in Japan; others might suggest it was actually Sir Clive Woodward’s England side of 2003,” wrote the Guardian.

But starved of the ball on the counter – for the Pumas had only one receiving fumble – the ABs had little to work with. Wave upon wave of tackles with Argentine back-row four hogging the ball and relentless in slowing down the breakdowns, meant the ABs were stuttering throughout.

The Aussies had tried and succeeded at the same, albeit inducing a bunch of ill-tempered fits from the ABs. Argentines relied on brute muscle to shut them out – even the whimpers. While two distinct AB squads turned out in two consecutive games, Pumas can easily be credited for downing the First Starting XV prowling in black.

Known plotter in chief

Michael Cheika who shepherded the Wallabies at the World Cup last year has now moved on to the Pumas, serving as consultant. Animated as always, Cheika was seen drilling buzzwords into Argentine ears at halfway stage, keeping up the chokehold on the ABs.

Nicholas Sanchez had a dream game kicking over all of the 25 points for the Pumas, doing what his opposite number is accustomed to being seen doing. Six penalties, a try and conversion helped him to the record high points against the ABs. Noone in 35 years of the two sides’ clashes had as many, though it was in no small part due to the immense presence of Matera who helped them keep shape and systematically take them apart. AB’s Richard Mo’unga had levelled at first penalty before the Pumas led 16-3 at half time, but couldn’t find much to create further nuisance in, against the tight Puma pack and at breakdowns.

World rejoices

Juan Imhoff wept like they’d won the World Cup – best thing in the year after the Cup – and coach Mario Ledesma later said of the havoc wreaked by Covid on his side, “We’ve been through hell. After everything that has happened this year…if I told you what it meant I wouldn’t be able to talk.”

ABs captain Sam Cane spoke of the edge lent to opponents by what could only have been a liberating desperation. “Full credit to Argentina. They came out from the first whistle right to the end 80th (minute) with probably a little bit more intent and urgency than us. They kept coming and they put their bodies in front really well and we struggled in continuity and to put them under pressure.”

Coach Ian Foster spoke of lessons not learnt from. “We’re hurting greatly. That was a frustrating response to a similar game last week.It’s the second week in a row where we haven’t had good composure when things haven’t quite gone our way .. Again we got rattled.”

Sanchez who said he felt this would be a good day as soon as he arrived at the stadium said, “In 2007 we finished third (in the World Cup). But to win against the All Blacks is crazy for us.”

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