The 2022 Rugby Championship entered the second half of its competition with the second of Argentina’s matches in New Zealand. The Pumas came into the match topping the table after their first ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, but an early handling error from Tomás Lavanini gave the All Blacks immediate possession in the Pumas 22, and a minute of pressure earned them a penalty, which RIchie Mo’unga calmly slotted for an early lead. In wet conditions, the Pumas continued to make errors that gifted New Zealand possession and territory, and when Rieko Ioane recovered a chip into the Pumas 22, the All Blacks quick ball kept them on the front foot and eventually saw Ethan de Groot crash over for the opening try. The All Blacks extended their lead as the first quarter came to an end, Mo’unga sending a grubber in behind the Pumas defence—and taking a big hit from Marcos Kremer in the process—which Will Jordan won the race to, and with the Pumas defence retreating, the ball was spread wide on the next phase to send Caleb Clarke over in the corner, Mo’unga converting for a 17-0 lead. This finally sparked a response from Argentina, whose first attack of real note won a penalty, but they chose to kick to the corner and were soon undone by another handline error as they tried to spread the ball wide. Emiliano Boffelli finally put Argentina on the scoreboard with a penalty after 32 minutes, however a lack of communication recovering the restart led to them giving away a penalty in their own 22, and after the All Blacks’ initial attempt was stopped, Samisoni Taukei’aho crossed for the try—written off for a knock-on in the build-up by Tyrel Lomax—while Lavanini was sent to the bin for not being back 10m at the penalty. And the All Blacks took immediate advantage of the extra man, choosing to take a scrum and getting the push on, before giving to the backs to send Rieko Ioane over beneath the post, Mo’unga kicking the conversion for a 24-3 halftime lead.
The Pumas made a change at half time, with Benjamín Urdapilleta replacing Santiago Carreras—who had taken a knock to the thigh courtesy of an unpenalised late hit from Sam Cane—and he immediately had the Pumas on the attack, until a strip from Sam Whitelock on Thomas Gallo saw the All Blacks win the ball back and kick downfield, with a great chase putting the Pumas under heavy pressure, resulting in possession once again deep in the Argentina half and, soon after, another penalty for Mo’unga. As both teams went to their benches, George Bower found himself turned over by Matera n the Pumas try line, and this sparked a period of attacking intensity from the Pumas which saw Fletcher Newell binned for collapsing a driving maul and as the penalties continued to come their way, Lavanini’s stretch for the line saw the ball dislodged by Mo’unga, while another handling error ended their next attack in the 22. Winning a penalty advantage off the resulting scrum, the All Blacks chose to try and play with ball in hand, and Will Jordan released Rieko Ioane to break away, and a few phases of pressure saw Sam Cane put through to draw the last defender and feed Jordie Barrett for the try. That try killed off any remaining hopes of an Argentina comeback, and New Zealand’s next foray into Pumas territory also saw them score, Ardie Savea dotting down with 12 minutes left to make it 2 tries scored while Newell was in the bin, while Brodie Retallick marked his return from injury with a try with 6 minutes remaining and Beauden Barrett crossed after the final hooter, with brother Jordie converting for a 50-3 victory that will likely see many with short memories say that Ian Foster is the man to lead the All Blacks again.
Last week I talked about how the All Blacks just mindlessly ran into the heart of the Pumas defence phase after phase. Well it looks like Ian Foster has done his homework and created a gameplan to attack the Pumas (a week late), as they have done much better this week. And it all comes down to one thing: kicks in behind the defence.
The Argentina defence is made up of a group of absolute units getting in your face and hitting you hard, but once you get in behind them, they are vulnerable as they are forced to chase back, and often start giving away high numbers of penalties. This week, the All Blacks were finding a way to get in behind the defensive line, by having Richie Mo’unga and David Havili play clever shallow kicks in behind the front line.
It was a clear planned tactic as Will Jordan was always aware and ready to chase for it, while the kicks all notably came when playing to the All Blacks’ right wing, away from aerial master Emiliano Boffelli. Worst case scenario, these chips and grubbers were forcing the Pumas to have the ball deep in their own half, but what was often happening in the game was that Jordan was beating the defence on the turn, and in that moment the All Blacks attack would press their advantage to score a few phases later.
Now if only Ian Foster can start figuring out how to beat a team in 1 week rather than 2 or 3, the All Blacks may be able to put together a run of wins.
While New Zealand got their tactics right this week, the Pumas didn’t. Much like in the first round against Australia, Argentina focused too much on attacking with the ball in hand, which worked against them as a combination of wet conditions and a solid All Blacks defence saw them continually making handling errors that killed off their match.
What they should have been doing was playing the kicking game that they did in round 2, putting the ball up and letting players like Carreras, Boffelli, Cordero and Mallia put pressure on the All Blacks in the air. Granted the All Blacks are better set to deal with this than the Wallabies (courtesy of both Jordie Barrett and Will Jordan being experienced fullbacks), but with conditions making the ball slippery, it would have still been a much more effective tactic, while also forcing the All Blacks to play from deep.
It’s noticeable that the high ball game did feature a little more after the break, and it did cause some problems for the All Blacks, but the game was already all-but over as a competition by that point and needed a more attacking gameplan from the Pumas, which then worked into New Zealand hands as the handling errors continued.