December 6, 2013
Their best forty minutes
“Their best forty minutes the Pumas have played in the Rugby Championship,” said Sir Graham Henry of the opening half of the game played on Saturday at the magnificent Estadio Único of La Plata.
“There is a fitness issue; our team is not accustomed to playing at this level and intensity and the All Blacks are the best team in the world. But, what we saw from Argentina in that period gives us sufficient hope going into the last game,” added the Pumas technical advisor, one of the shrewdest rugby minds in the oval world.
The second Rugby Championship comes to an end at the Gigante de Arroyito Stadium, next to the Paraná River in Rosario. Argentina will face an historic opportunity to secure their first ever win in twelve games. If they do that, they will finish in third place.
It won’t be easy and the Pumas need to have a perfect game and ensure they control the game and the tempo, taking it to the one they most prefer. The physicality of the Argentine pack of forwards should allow them to manage better the intensity of what will be a cauldron of pressure as the loser takes the Wooden Spoon.
It is very clear that the close-quarter game is where Argentina feels more comfortable. The solid defence has become an integral part of this team, even despite the fact that the All Blacks managed a bonus point for scoring four tries. It has become clear that this Australian side that is underperforming will not be so threatening they are still a top four side in the world.
The positive return of lock Patricio Albacete helped to sort out the lineout shambles. The rolling mauls should become a good launching pad.
Pushing the All Blacks in the scrum was great news. At least a scrum-try should have been scored against the Wallabies under the rain of Perth. Referee Nigel Owens certainly played a role in that game; hopefully Englishman Wayne Barnes will be as consistent as Jaco Peyper was on Saturday.
The pressure coming from the scrum is great for team morale and Argentina should be encouraged every time a scrum is set. Having said this, there is still a big gap between the starting front-rowers and their replacements.
If Los Pumas manage to get rid of their own prejudices, use a more intelligent kicking game and narrow their mistakes, it could be a happy afternoon.
It will certainly be the last time Felipe Contepomi is seen in a Puma jersey in Argentina. He might start and if that happens it won’t be a sentimental farewell as he refuses to announce his retirement and Santiago Fernández has not shown the same enterprise of the former Puma captain. The bald centre will become the most capped Puma and could also add to his points-scoring record.
He retires a rugby legend. If selected, he has already said he will be available to play for his club, Newman, as soon as the following weekend. If fit and still hungry, he plans to play a final season next year. He deserves a standing ovation when he walks off the field in Rosario. Hopefully, it will be a winning bow.