All Blacks all class, too strong for plucky Pumas
Cornell Vander Heyden
September 4, 2014
Brodie Retallick has played 29 Tests since making his debut in 2012 © Getty Images
One thing is certain: Argentina are a vastly better side in their third tilt at the Rugby Championship, as evidenced by narrow loses in their first two Tests against South Africa. Good enough to take down the world champions on their own turf coming off a demolition of the Wallabies? No. But the All Blacks will know they've been in a battle when they count the bruises in the ice bath after the match.
With the winning streak over, New Zealand are now chasing the unbeaten run record they already hold (23). They have gone 19 already and there's little to suggest it won't be 20 come Saturday night. They have not been beaten by the Pumas in 22 Tests although the South Americans did force a draw in 1985.
New Zealand will need to be on alert defensively despite the forecast of rain in Napier, as the Pumas put three tries on the Boks two weeks ago and have beaten 31 defenders in the tournament. And their pack will not be easy to shake come scrum time, boasting the heaviest weight of the four Rugby Championship sides - and quite probably the best set-piece. If they manage to replicate their ruck and maul success rate of 96 per cent, they could make life difficult for the hosts.
New Zealand, however, hold the edge in class across the park. The loss of a first-choice fly-half is usually a major concern but the All Blacks will lose little with Beauden Barrett deputising, such is their strength in depth. Israel Dagg is also not a bad fullback to usher into a winning side. For all the talk about how bad the Wallabies were at the breakdown a fortnight ago, New Zealand were awesome, pilfering the ball regularly and turning turnovers into try-scoring opportunities at the blink of an eye. A repeat effort will be difficult to compete against.
For the Pumas, Joaquin Tuculet ranks as the second-best attacking force in this year's tournament to date. The fullback has beaten seven defenders and racked up 148 metres in carries so far. In the forwards, flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon ranks among the best in tackles, carriers and offloads.
There are not many not in form for the world champs but Brodie Retallick was superb at Eden Park. The big lock was a monster at the breakdown and terrorised the Wallabies throughout.
Out of form
For all the positives fly-half Nicolas Sanchez brings to Argentina's game, his goal-kicking has not been one of them. A success rate of 64 per cent (he has not taken all the shots) just won't cut it in this competition and they could well have beaten South Africa had they nailed more of their chances.
There simply is no-one out of form at the moment for the All Blacks, but it will be interesting to see how Ma'a Nonu returns after his shoulder injury and whether the 32-year-old he can recapture his best form of seasons past.
Key area to watch
The scrum. It will be interesting to see how the All Blacks eight plays out against a far heavier Pumas pack when they bend knees for the first time. New Zealand were heavily penalised at the scum in the first Bledisloe Test in Sydney, which proved to be a major factor in the drawn result. The All Blacks can still prevail without dominating the scums; it's harder to see Argentina staying in the contest without at least matching their opponents.
New Zealand have won twice as many turnovers (18) as the Pumas (9) in the 2014 edition of the tournament, but the All Blacks have also shipped more penalties and free kicks (27) than any other side and Argentina the fewest (19). Argentina have not finished within 14 points of the All Blacks in any of their past five meetings, and that is perhaps the most telling stat.
You just can't tip against the All Blacks after their most recent effort. The Pumas have improved, but the ruthless All Blacks will not be taking anything for granted and are playing with supreme confidence at the moment. They will jump on any opportunities and the outside backs are in a class of their own. New Zealand by 13.
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the third round of Rugby Championship Tests
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