December 9, 2013
RugbySaturday, September 28, 2013
Pumas host All Blacks at Estadio Único
New Zealand could come up champion after fifth round of tournament
When Los Pumas face the Haka this afternoon, the world of rugby will be watching events from the magnificent Estadio Único in La Plata. The fifth round of this second Rugby Championship could — as in 2012 — come up with a champion and the New Zealand All Blacks are usually at their best when they sniff silverware. The Pumas, as much as they have improved since their dismal start of the tournament, are still a few steps behind the defending champions.
South Africa will need to beat the Wallabies in Cape Town and take a much-needed bonus point to stay in contention, but whatever happens in that game, played six hours earlier, will determine the needs of New Zealand, a country that has never lost against Argentina in 18 official internationals — 22 if four played in 1976 and 1979 are taken into account.
The weather forecast has changed and there might be rain for most of the today; wet conditions are usually a leveller from which Argentina could benefit. The forward-oriented Puma style works better in close quarters, although the choice of wings — Juan Imhoff and Lucas González Amorosino — was a strong indication of a wider game plan.
The new scrummaging rules have marked a Pumas’ scrum renaissance as they were at times dominant against the All Blacks and destroyed the Wallaby pack. Although not a key component of the game as it once used to be, it still is an important motivational weapon for Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe’s side. Their Achilles heel has been the lineout: the return from injury of lock Patricio Albacete should make it a far more solid platform.
The Pumas have started their last three games strongly and if they can manage to stay in the hunt the loud crowd might make an impact on affairs. Not that the All Blacks easily give in to pressure, let alone coming from the sidelines, but it will certainly lift a team that has yet to enjoy victory in the toughest of international competitions.
With captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter injured, there was a massive scare in the New Zealand camp when caretaker captain Kieran Read was unable to train on Thursday with muscle soreness; he has since been declared fit. With few, if any flaws in their structures, this test will mark a world-record equalling 50th time Ma’a Nonu and the efficient Conrad Smith combine in the All Black centres.
An interesting clash will be that of Nicolás Sánchez, an abrasive defender, and his opposite flyhalf Aaron Cruden, a wise runner.
Many in the Argentine camp argued recently they had been unfairly dealt by lack of refereeing consistency, much of the hope of an even battle will rest in the whistle of South African Jaco Peyper. “We only need to know that what we are penalized for, the opposition will also be penalized for. That didn’t happen in our last three tests,” said an insider with the Puma team. Peyper controlled this same game exactly a year ago.
Rain, refereeing and the might of the All Blacks stand between a first Puma win against them and in the Rugby Championship. 80 minutes of solid rugby.
Argentina: 15-Juan Martín Hernández, 14-Lucas González Amorosino, 13-Marcelo Bosch, 12-Santiago Fernández, 11-Juan Imhoff, 10-Nicolás Sánchez, 9-Martín Landajo; 8-Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7-Pablo Matera, 6-Juan Fernández Lobbe (captain), 5-Patricio Albacete, 4-Julio Farías Cabello, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Eusebio Guinazú, 1-Marcos Ayerza. Replacements: 16-Agustín Creevy, 17-Nahuel Lobo, 18-Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19-Mariano Galarza, 20-Benjamín Macome, 21-Tomás Cubelli, 22-Felipe Contepomi, 23-Horacio Agulla.
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock. Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Jeremy Thrush, 20-Steven Luatua, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Charles Piutau.