In a game marked by rain, injuries, sloppy play, handling errors and a brutal Argentinian scrum, the All Blacks faced an unexpectedly strong test from the determined Latin warriors.
Early in the game the lack of discipline from the All Blacks stung, as Frances Saili mishandled the ball, which was immediately pounced on by a flying Juan Manuel Leguizamon who ran in the first points of the game. A stunned All Blacks defence then watched as Nicolas Sanchez easily converted, putting the All Blacks firmly on the back foot.
The All Blacks hit back from the boot of the newly returned Dan Carter, slotting a penalty goal and notching up 1400 test points at the same time. Carter however seemed to struggle with his kicking game, possibly still shaking off some rust from lack of playing, missing two later penalties that ordinarily would have been easy for him.
The All Blacks also made a number of bad handling errors, coughing up unnecessary possession due to missed passes.
The game came to life however when Argentinian Hooker Eusebia Guinazu was yellow carded for an offence, and the All Blacks exploded.
Kieran Read backed up strong offensive pressure with what can only be described as a miracle pass to Aaron Smith, who crashed over the line to open New Zealand’s try account.
Shortly after Dan Carter broke through the line and after missing a possible linkage with Charlie Faumuina, got the ball out through Stephen Luatua, linking with Ben Smith, who chipped the ball in behind the Argentinian defence, to have Aaron Smith again smash over and steal a try.
Luatua was a name not far from the commentators lips all night, his constant involvement, attacking and defensively was key to the game’s dominance. Luatua linked up with Ben Smith out wide, was in the middle clearing the ball, he was pretty much everywhere the whole 80 minutes. If I was Liam Messam, I’d be a little worried about my position at the moment, Luatua has more than justified his selection and will be a dominant force for a long time to come.
The second half was made for me simply with a call that went “Carter, to Smith, to Smith, to Smith” Yes that was four different players.
Huge pressure in the second half was evident from both sides, Juan Martin Hernandez and Gonzalo Camacho asserting themselves early. Ther rain which had begun falling early in the first half increased throughout the game, contributing to many handling errors, and a huge number of turnovers from both side.
Saili again stole and lost the ball, gifting possession back to the Pumas, before the first injury blow saw Comacho leave the field with a suspected dislocated shoulder.
The Argentinian scrum monstered New Zealand on more than one occaision, giving Sanchez an easy shot on goal to bring the Pumas to within 5 points of the All Blacks.
The All Blacks promptly hit back with a beautiful charge down by Read who got the ball to within five meters of the goal before being brought down, but managed to get the ball out where the offence capitlaised on a Puma defence well overstretched and Julian Savea broke through for the third and final try of the match.
Controversy surrounds a possible fourth try late in the second half, Savea again looking for all money to be away after the ball, but was held back by Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. The referee awarded the penalty, however the grandstands (and I imagine several news agencies) were all calling for a yellow card for a blatant personal foul.
Concern also now clouds the All Blacks camp as Richie McCaw limped to the sideline late in the second half with a knee injury, and Wyatt Crockett came off after an apparent head knock.
The final score of 28 – 13 sums up well the general game play. Argentina played hard, but ultimately the All Blacks played harder. I’d like to say I feel sorry for the guy I heard about who dropped two grand on the Pumas to win, but really, who the hell would make that bet?
Next weekend sees the All Blacks facing off against the Springboks, who at the time of writing are about to go into battle trying to get their first victory in Brisbane against the Wallabies. At this stage I’d suggest McCaw is marginal at best, so we may need to rely on Read’s leadership against the South African’s. One thing’s for sure, next weekend’s game is going to be a doozy!
BREAKING: McCaw to miss the next 4 – 5 weeks with a confirmed medial ligament injury
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Main photo credit: img.lagaceta.com.ar, CC