With the first match in Adelaide out of the way, eyes turned to Canterbury, where the All Blacks were hosting Argentina. New Zealand chose to stick with the same starting XV (and all-but one of the bench) as their last match for the first time in forever, but after an early missed penalty from Richie Mo’unga, Emiliano Boffelli had more success with his own first attempt. Despite good field position, Mo’unga kicked the next penalty to the corner, but it proved to be the right decision as the All Blacks maul ushered Samisoni Taukei’aho over for the opening try and a 5-3 lead. The Pumas struck back though with a series of phases of quick ball drawing the New Zealand defence offside, allowing Boffelli to kick them back into the lead. As the half hour mark approached, the Kiwis went through a series of phases to eventually win a penalty in the Argentina 22, which Mo’unga kicked, and when Julián Montoya overthrew a lineout on halfway, the All Blacks recovered the loose ball and spread it wide to send Caleb Clarke over in the corner, Mo’unga’s conversion stretching the lead to 9 points. Montoya was looking to make immediate amends with a jackal on Will Jordan, which allowed Boffelli to kick a penalty from the halfway line, while an early tackle from Tyrel Lomax allowed Boffelli to land a 4ᵗʰ penalty with the final kick of the half, bringing the score to 15-12.
The All Blacks had the first chance of points after the break as Jordie Barrett’s penalty attempts from inside his own half drifted wide, but the hosts attacked well off the resulting 22 drop-out and eventually earned a much more kickable penalty, which Mo’unga duly slotted. But the Pumas hit back immediately, with Boffelli pressuring Scott Barrett at the restart and forcing a fumble straight into the hands of Juan Martín González, who reacted quicker than everyone to go over in the corner, with Boffelli’s conversion from the touchline putting the Pumas ahead. A huge scrum from the All Blacks allowed them to kick a penalty to the corner, but the chance was wasted as they were pinged for obstruction as they tried to set the maul. Another breakdown penalty from Montoya allowed Boffelli to extend the lead, while another penalty to touch for New Zealand came to nothing on the hour mark as Codie Taylor overthrew everyone and allowed the Pumas to recover and clear their lines. Sam Cane was probably lucky to just concede a penalty a few minutes later for a tackle off the ball on Pablo Matera, but Boffelli’s kick stretched the lead to 7 points. The All Blacks started looking dangerous as they made ground through a series of phases, but Matías Orlando brought that to an end with a critical turnover with just 11 minutes remaining. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, a dominant maul from Argentina was collapsed on halfway to earn Shannon Frizell a yellow card, but their decision to kick for territory rather than give Boffelli the shot at goal backfired as the support men failed to keep their feet at the breakdown when the ball went to the backs. With just a minute remaining, The All Blacks had one final chance with a penalty in the Pumas 22 and ent to the corner, but Codie Taylor’s throw to Sam Whitelock was angled too far towards his own team, and the Pumas secured the ball at their scrum and kicked the ball out for a deserved 18-25 victory, their first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
“Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is? Insanity is doing the exact… same f*cking thing… over and over again expecting… shit to change… That. Is. Crazy.”
—Vaas, Far Cry 3
Ian Foster was given the backing of New Zealand Rugby following the win over South Africa, which always felt premature to me giving his recent record. Do you think they are regretting it now as Foster has led them to another unwanted first?
The cliché is that you have to earn the right to go wide, and while that is somewhat true, it doesn’t mean that you have to do so by sending everyone through the tight channels for phase after phase, you can also do so by clever running lines committing defenders and holding them so that they can’t drift, creating the natural space out wide. The All Blacks used to be the best at this.
Today? There were maybe a couple of times they did this, most notably Clarke’s try when they countered the overthrown lineout and used Rieko Ioane’s arcing run to create the space to put Jordie Barrett through the line. The rest of the time, they just pounded the Argentine defence in the narrow positions. And the Pumas welcomed it, completing all but a handful of their tackles (96% tackle completion from 205 tackles). That Pumas pack will happily tackle you all day long, and they have such incredible player in there like Kremer, Montoya and Matera who just need the smallest fraction of a second to get over the ball and win the turnover. So by continually going down these channels without any real manipulation of the defensive line’s shape and expecting a different result, you are just playing into their hands.
Ian Foster and company may develop a plan to win next week, but where was that planning inthe 2 weeks that they just had to prepare for this match? And as the World Cup looms closer, new assistant Joe Schmidt must start looking like a much more attractive option than the man currently running the All Blacks legacy into the ground.
It’s a hallmark of Michael Cheika sides: the whole team starting 10m back at kickoffs and beginning their run-up during the kicking motion. It’s an incredibly smart tactic that I’ve always wondered why more teams don’t adapt, but with the Pumas, it now makes the restart a weapon.
So what makes this such a good tactic? Well for starters, it reduces the chances of players being in front of the kicker at the restart as they are coming from deeper, but at the same time it also allows the kicking team to arrive with more momentum, which makes it harder for the receiving team to create a dominant first contact.
But with this Pumas team, it is taken to another level. Santiago Carreras can get so much hang on his kicks that it allows the chasers to actually reach the catchers at the same time as the ball even on deeper kicks, while they then have Boffelli—one of the best in the world at getting in the air for the high ball—chasing the kick, not with the intention of making the first tackle, but instead looking to challenge for the ball. And that extra few metres of a run-up gives him the momentum to get up high enough to challenge against a player who is being lifted. If he can get up and swat the ball back, then the Pumas win possession well inside the opposition half, and if he can only put some pressure on, that may be enough to force a fumble, and then the loose ball is anyone’s game, leading to the possibility of the Pumas still winning the ball back (as happened for Juan Martín González’s try), the receiving team winning the ball but being under heavy pressure and potentially being able to be turned over if players don’t react fast enough, or the ball being knocked on by the catcher as they fumble, giving the Pumas a scrum in a dangerous area.
Many teams already seem to struggle consistently securing the ball and exiting correctly off a restart after they score. Against Michael Cheika’s Argentina, this will just be an even greater challenge.