The All Blacks have beaten Argentina in the first meeting of the two sides in the new Rugby Championship. It was a messy affair as both teams struggled to make play in what were extremely difficult conditions. But it was the All Blacks who prevailed, wearing down their opponents and claiming a 21-5 victory.
The strong swirling wind, and at times torrential rain, dictated the way the game went, as both teams struggled to get anything going and often looked to put ball to boot to use the wind to their advantage. Although this didn’t deter the All Blacks from playing their natural game, looking to use their backs and test the Argentine defence all night, resulting in many created opportunities with little being finished as the slippery ball made handling difficult. At times this looked a reckless game plan as it seemed to play into Argentina’s hands.
Argentina responded well, proving to be very tough defensively, showing great line speed and hitting hard. Along with the conditions, this was a major factor in keeping the All Blacks away from crossing the line until midway through the second half. Despite that it always seemed as though the All Blacks had the game under control as Argentina did little to cause the All Black defence too many problems. They tended to feed off the All Blacks mistakes rather than create chances themselves. Indeed the one try they did score came from an All Blacks mistake close to the line.
The score remained close until midway through the second half, where the pressure the All Blacks were applying finally paid off and two tries were scored, one to each winger. This was probably a fair reflection of the way the game had gone, because despite the closeness of the score for most of the game, it was the All Blacks that played most of the rugby.
It was a game where the forwards needed to get the upper-hand as playing on the back foot in those conditions would be near impossible. The Argentine forwards didn’t make this easy for the All Blacks though, muscling up and playing a very physical brand of rugby at the tackle and ruck time. But eventually the All Blacks were able to assert their dominance in this area, wearing their opponents down and gaining the upper-hand in the final 20 minutes as they have done so many times before.
Richie McCaw was outstanding, tackling well, running strongly and being effective at ruck time. He is showing that he’s mastered the all around game, proving a devastating ball runner as well as being the defensive genius he’s always been. Both Victor Vito and later Liam Messam complemented McCaw well, defending strongly and bringing physicality to the game.
The young locking pair of Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano were good too, getting through a lot of work in the tight and giving good metres when running the ball.
It was a tough night to be a back and consequently they struggled to get anything going. The halfback-first five combination of Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden were under pressure all night and had little room to work with. It was a game where the fast pass of Smith possibly wasn’t the best option, as Argentina seemed to have this aspect of the game plan worked out and countered with their rushed defence. This put the players receiving under pressure and made for a higher error rate.
The midfield was solid without being eye opening. After an early mistake Ma’a Nonu had a tidy game, being used to get the team on the front foot with the crash ball from first phase. Conrad Smith had less to work with, but did little wrong in his first game back after surgery.
The back three did well with the chances they got, with both Julian Savea and Cory Jane scoring tries and Israel Dagg looking dangerous all night. Savea continues to show how much he has grown in the past year, running well when he had his opportunities and defending well.
With the competition now at its halfway point the All Blacks top the table and it’s hard to see anyone taking that from them. They still look a side that is far from their best, but that they are the dominant team in the competition. Playing like this makes one wonder how dominant they could be if they were to step it up.
Both Argentina and South Africa will pose threats in their respective countries, but both have struggled away from home and will find it hard to topple the All Blacks from first place.
The All Blacks will now turn their attention to the Springboks, who they will meet in Dunedin on Saturday night in what will be the All Blacks first game in the new Forsyth Barr Stadium.