Sixth Rugby Championship title in Seven Years for New Zealand

Sixth Rugby Championship title in Seven Years for New Zealand
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After this latest International test match, the All Blacks have claimed their sixth Rugby Championship title in seven years for New Zealand. Competing against Argentina in Buenos Aires, the strike power of the visitors was too much for the hosts to handle.

Argentina 17 – Tries: Emiliano Boffelli, Tomás Cubelli; Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez (2); Penalty: Sanchez

New Zealand 35 – Tries: Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane (2), Patrick Tuipulotu, Anton Lienert-Brown; Cons: Beauden Barrett (4), Richie Mo’unga.

The New Zealand team, with six changes to the starting lineout – missing several key men – performed adequately, to deny Argentina in Argentina. That fact was where many believed Los Pumas would upset the visitors. They wanted to put them under the hammer but, in the end, too many mistakes by the hosts cost them their biggest chance in years.

Five tries-to-two was the example of where New Zealand sits against all others in The Rugby Championship. 30% better, and next weekend; even while they have secured the title already, the Springboks will need to play at their peak again, to beat this All Blacks side.

Sixth Rugby Championship title in Seven Years for New Zealand

The game opened with a penalty to Nicolas Sanchez, before that was very soon equaled with good measure. A counterattack from the All Blacks saw Waisake Naholo make a good, clean break. Offloading to Rieko Ioane (see main picture), the flying winger claimed another try after just eight minutes.

The All Blacks mentality is to ‘shift the ball’. They do not prefer to pick-and-drive, whereas Los Pumas like to set-up and present the ball to their halfback Gonzalo Bertranou. And the hosts would have wanted to rely on the scrum to be a weapon. But to the credit of the visitors, they were able to counter that.

After one big scrum from New Zealand, TJ Perenara managed a fumbled ball [backwards] to feed the barnstorming Naholo, who would not be denied with the line close. Such a strong and imposing player, if Waisake Naholo can manage his defence and taking of the high ball in the next 12 months, then he will enjoy a long term in the black jersey.

The one failure was the All Blacks lineout. Not as controlled, it appears as a weakness at this early stage, but the highlights were the offloading ability of players like Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Beauden Barrett. Holding the ball is a key strength, with only a Ryan Crotty sideline kick being used in the opening quarter. Possession is key, as is retaining the gain line.

The scrum – an area where Los Pumas had targeted the youthful All Black front row – seemed to be very even. Karl Tu’inukuafe holding his own against Ramiro Herrara. A few times over the match, the front rows popped but the new All Black star is as solid as Olo Brown was [circa 1995].

Several penalties were awarded to both sides, and with the trouble in the lineouts, setpiece was not where this Rugby Championship game would be won.

Opportunistic try to Rieko Ioane loads pressure on Los Pumas

Scoring his 20th test try, Rieko Ioane took his few opportunities to load pressure on the Los Pumas. In the breakdown, it seemed that Emiliano Boffelli pushes Codie Taylor, who seemed to roll over the tackled player. That disrupted the ball, and ever the opportunist, Ioane stormed down the line to score.

It is these situations, is where All Black players situational awareness means they make attacking choices. Even though the odd forward pass/dropped ball results, when the effect is in the New Zealand teams interest, the unstructured play is where they are ranked number one in World Rugby.

This sparked Argentina into action. In the all-important minutes prior to the break can determine who walks into the sheds happiest. On attack, the hosts gained meters, before a big spot-tackle by Sonny Bill Williams was required – although, the following tacklers were judged offside.

Stand-in captain Sam Whitelock complained to the referee that Los Pumas players were interfering with standing All Blacks. The niggle was evident, with players being held and at times, taken out of play. The breakdown is crucial in modern rugby, but the officials do need to view each sides infringements equally. Frustration was becoming clear to commentators, as the hotbed of emotion in Latin American sport, began to show it’s hand before the break.

And unfortunately for New Zealand, when a penalty advantage was not converted by Argentina, the referee had clearly had enough. He blew the whistle twice, calling in Whitelock and judged that Sonny Bill Williams had repeatedly been offside, sending him to the bin for ten minutes.

Unable to convert any advantage, Argentina attempted several more attacking moves, but were held to 3-21 after the opening half.

Second half comeback from hosts ‘not quite enough’

The skills of Nicolas Sanchez came to the fore soon after the restart. Breaking the line, he is world class and it took much effort to hold down the repeated Los Pumas attack. Trying to stock Argentine drives, and without being able to turnover the ball – an area where South Africa seems to be the world leader at the moment.

Once Sonny Bill was permitted to rejoin the match, he thanked each of his teammates, where they let in zero points. A huge effort, especially considering the territory that Argentina had after 50 minutes.

Again frustration was raising its ugly head. The heated atmosphere, the whistling and chanting added to the occasion. TJ Perenara, chirping and needling the opposition. So reaction from Los Pumas players saw a period of confrontation – that fortunately did not escalate.

“It’s just a rugby game. Keep it clean” was the clear message from referee Mathieu Raynal. And that is where the Jaguares and many South American teams have let themselves down. Add to that the lineouts; not thrown straight or thrown too far, areas each side failed in on this night.

Ardie Savea of New Zealand is tackled by Agustin Creevy of Argentina during The Rugby Championship match at Jose Amalfitani Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

Against the run of play, Ardie Savea (see above) decided to use his ability to break tackles. He gained territory, and when the backline clicked, Sonny Bill effectively offloaded for Ioane to run 50 meters. Clipped at the heels, it only delayed the attack. After several phases, the replacement lock Patrick Tuipulotu hit the line hard, and added to the misery of Los Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma.

With such big expectations, his side was slightly uncoordinated. Not as precise as required, if you wish to defeat the World Champions.

Los Pumas lack precision in Rugby Championship decider

A high tackle by Taylor was one opportunity given to the hosts. The setpiece this time was successful, as Argentina executed a similar move to Naholo’s first-half effort. Replacement halfback Tomás Cubelli got close and managed to wrestle the ball onto the line.

Of note; the TMO didn’t seem to agree with the on-field officials, and it raises again the influence that a large screen can play. Replays watched can also be up to interpretation, so World Rugby bosses do need to control the TMO input.

Richie Mo’unga was introduced with 20 minutes to go, and his efforts looked impressive. Beauden Barrett moved to fullback, allowing Ben Smith a well-earned rest – as much as the options available with utility players like Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown and; not available on this day, Damian McKenzie.

The substitutes by the visitors all provided that extra effort. Debutant Angus Ta’avao earned his cap, and the power of the front row was retained. But, Argentina were still motivated by the large crowd.

Breaking out, Los Pumas did well to use the territory well late in the match. On the All Blacks line, the immediate pressure was one of the few examples where Argentina had some precision. A quick ball wide gave Emiliano Boffelli his try, and made the scoreline more respectable at 17-28.

It lifted the crowd, with trumpets being played, clapping and a huge wave of positivity. But it also caused a mix up in possession. Lost ball saw New Zealand attack, Ryan Crotty used a grubber and Barrett showed his speed to come close to scoring.

Late flurry earns Bonus Point and Sixth Rugby Championship

Richie Mo’unga added some signs of his class. As much as the game had lost some shape, but the introduction of the Crusaders first-five, demonstrated his desire to play at the higher level. He showed good play, and inserted a grubber kick for Anton Lienert-Brown to score the fifth try – a bonus point in Round 5 of The Rugby Championship.

With just minutes left, Argentina again intended to ‘spoil the party’ when the All Blacks held aloft the Championship trophy, but again lost their shape. The lack of precision, meaning the second half had less flow. The breaks in play, penalties and the occasional dropped ball, just denied Los Pumas from reducing the reward for the visitors.

Instead, they left the field with their unbeaten record still in tact. Not the best example from New Zealand – and they must improve ahead of South Africa – so this match was no classic for either team. Both went close to scoring, but each were denied. Not quite clinical, and not entirely satisfactory ….especially for Mario Ledesma and his Argentine men.

In the end, a failure to be precise in their execution, meant Argentina could not deny the All Blacks a sixth Rugby Championship title in seven years (third in succession) for New Zealand.

“Main photo credit”
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