December 11, 2013
The toughest match
By Frankie Deges
Los Pumas will face the toughest of opponents in the All Blacks. Sporting passion has always been associated with the way in Argentina and Brazil live, for example, for football. That same passion is the one that drives a magic country of little more than four million yet the shape of the ball is different. Rugby is the sport in New Zealand.
A land of opportunities for the many island countries in the South Pacific, its mixed society includes the original inhabitants of Aotearoa, the Maoris, the former British colonists and those coming from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, amongst others who have made New Zealand their new home. The blend of these nations when coming together for the All Blacks makes them a scary opponent.
Winners of the last Rugby World Cup, played at home in 2011, they are the nation with the best winning ratio in the game’s history. If we take their record against Argentina, numbers are not kind to our team: one draw (21-all in 1985) and nineteen losses, some of them by ample margins.
New Zealand is defending champion in both men and women World Cups (15s & 7s), having also won both recent Sevens Series. The NZ Under-20s won the Junior World Championship four consecutive times, but failed in the last couple of years.
“It is like playing against Federer or Nadal,” explained assistant coach Mauricio Reggiardo. “You play them 100 times and can beat them once. But that one win could well be the next game so we must be prepared and ready.”
The former test prop played in the worst-ever Puma defeat; an unforgiving 93-8 in Wellington back in 1997. As part of the current technical staff, he was there 18 days ago in Soweto when the team crashed in the opening round of this year’s Rugby Championship. That unforgettable 73-13 was as painful, or maybe more so than that loss of sixteen years ago. The lessons were quickly learnt and many things corrected for the rematch in Mendoza seven days later. The team is very focused as they now prepare in Auckland for the game in Hamilton on Saturday.
The way the Pumas stand in front of the All Blacks will mark the way the game goes. If they can keep their defensive lines, strike whenever they have a sniff of scoring points and generate sufficient possession to disable the Black attacks, they will be in a good place.
The local media has been very harsh towards the Pumas. Suspended Leonardo Senatore, it seems, is one of many eye-gouging cannibals. Senatore won’t play for nine weeks after biting a Springbok and that was in self-defence (still, unacceptable). This is not a dirty team. That they are creating all these media waves is a sign of respect.
In New Zealand, the only way to be respected is performing on a rugby field. It is who they are, what makes them tick and if Argentina performs in a way that the All Blacks have to work hard for their win, they will have earned that respect.