Argentina vs. New Zealand: 6 Things We Learned
New Zealand's 33-15 win in La Plata moved them that much closer to lifting consecutive Rugby Championship silverware.
Steve Hansen's side had to work for their most recent win over Argentina but nonetheless showed the kind of gritty integrity that's so often the sign of a world power in the sport.
With that being the case, read on to find exactly what we learned from the South American standoff.
1 Ma’a Nonu for Hire
Given how essential a figure he’s been for the international team of late, it’s hard to believe that Ma’a Nonu has yet to agree to a new professional contract.
According to ESPN, the player could be closing in on a move to France’s top-14 giants Clermont Auvergne, but it seems the 31-year-old is firmly concentrated on his All Blacks career, at least for now.
Whatever the case may be behind the curtain, it’s ridiculous to think that clubs aren’t queuing up to sign a player easily in the upper echelon of world centres.
Against Argentina, Nonu grabbed an exemplary two assists for his side, one of which was a superbly executed dummy before slotting Ben Smith in to score in midfield.
For Nonu, it seems his club career will be sorted at the conclusion of this Rugby Championship, but the tournament has been a massive stage for the veteran back to prove he’s still up to the challenge at the top level.
2. Argentina Show Brains over Brawn
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Despite New Zealand's 30-kilogram advantage in the pack, Argentina’s forwards showed that it’s not all about size, but how you use it.
The South Americans dominated at the set piece throughout and it particularly showed in the scrum, winning 100 percent of theirs in the first half as well as two of the opposition’s.
Phelan’s side may be the minnows of the Rugby Championship still, but they are finding their strongest points and capitalising on them.
Of course, another consistent part of the Pumas’ performance was their line-out, which gave the home fans a very particular area of the meeting to be hopeful about.
Phelan’s men managed to retain their own throw-ins well and can be pleased at having only lost one line-out in the first period, maintaining a similar proficiency in the second.
Argentina still have their kinks to work out in open play, both attacking and defending, but they have a cushion to fall back on in the set piece.
3. Julian Savea the Savior
In La Plata, Julian Savea only further cemented his status as one of the All Blacks’ finest prospects right now and quite possibly one of the world’s most talented wingers.
“Solid” would be the word best associated with the 23-year-old, who’s just as reliable in defence as he is when carrying ball in hand.
Against Argentina, all it took was a sniff of space for the Hurricanes wide man to exploit the Pumas’ lapse in concentration and after a lengthy TMO decision, Savea was confirmed as the game’s opening try scorer.
Now boasting 15 tries in 16 international Tests, the prolific form of Julian Savea only looks to be improving as he progresses through the national ranks.
Can anyone say “the second coming of Jonah Lomu?”
4. Juan Figallo the Tightest of the Bunch
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As has been pointed out, Argentina’s scrum was a quintessential part of any good fortune the side had against New Zealand.
In that vein, it’s worth pointing out the performance of Juan Figallo who—though finishing on the losing side of matters—was an immensely powerful aspect of the Pumas’ set-piece.
Time and again the Montpellier tighthead led the assault on the visitors’ set piece and put Tony Woodcock firmly on the backfoot—far from an easy task.
The 25-year-old, as was pointed out by Ben Coles on Twitter, is up there with the best in his position at the moment.
5. Pumas Show Predatory Practicality
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In order to overcome a team like New Zealand, one has to ensure that the game doesn’t play straight to their strengths, which is precisely what Argentina managed to do for a great deal of Saturday’s encounter.
The kicking of Juan Martin Hernandez, Nicolas Sanchez and Martin Landajo pinned the All Blacks deep in their own territory for a great deal of the game, keeping them away from the acres of space that they thrive in.
As has been the story for much of the South Americans’ Rugby Championship, Argentina ran out of steam eventually, although their game plan was, for a time, precisely where it needed to be.
Savea was the only man capable of escaping those restrictions in the first half when he snapped up possession to record a lung-busting 60-metre try.
However, the Pumas can still take some big positives from the way in which they executed their strategy.
6. Argentine Initiative on Point Once Again
Probably Argentina’s most enamouring factor this summer has been their enthusiasm to hit the ground running in each and every game.
Santiago Phelan’s men show an incredible hunger in the first 40 minutes of play characteristically, but it’s something that more often than not simmers down in the second period.
In La Plata, the Pumas again came firing out of the blocks and a win looked possible with the halftime score staged at just 11-9 in the All Blacks’ favour.
The hosts challenged at the set piece and picked their battles well in the line-put nicking ball when possible.
However, that same fire and passion needs to be sustained if the South Americans are to really evolve as a unit, which is something they can’t yet boast.