What a difference two weeks makes.
Under immense pressure after successive defeats, the All Blacks delivered the required response in their final test of the year that ensures they will return home in a much more positive frame of mind. Almost certainly with the Tri Nations title in their luggage, too.
Two tries from electric Crusaders outside back Will Jordan, moments after he came onto the field late in the second half, propelled the All Blacks to a bonus-point victory over the Pumas.
A definitive, statement performance that rectified all the wrongs this was not.
It did, however, prove the All Blacks’ ability to learn and adapt. It also pushes the All Blacks to the top of the Tri Nations ladder, five points ahead of the Pumas and Wallabies, with a dominant advantage on points differential – 92 ahead of Argentina, and 100 ahead of Australia. The Pumas and Wallabies meet in the final clash next week.
Two weeks after losing to the Pumas for the first time the All Blacks were a totally different beast, scoring five tries that allows under-fire head coach Ian Foster to take a big deep breath over the summer to reassess.
Before extracting their revenge the All Blacks presented Argentina with a black jersey featuring the No 10 and Maradona on the back to honour the memory of the legendary footballer who died earlier this week.
It was a gesture that contrasted the fury the All Blacks would then bring to their work.
Nearly everything the All Blacks failed to do two weeks ago they did on this sweltering Newcastle night. That’s not to say it was a perfect performance. The All Blacks bombed several try-scoring chances through inaccuracy and overreliance on the boot. But most areas that were horribly off last time out showed signs of improvement.
The All Blacks’ revamped forward pack, with Akira Ioane, Nepo Laulala and Scott Barrett adding impetus after being promoted to start, brought infinitely more urgency to the breakdown which generated noticeably quicker ruck ball.
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Ioane, in particular, delivered a standout performance in his second start on the blindside. Laulala, likewise, was heavily involved, taking advantage of the Pumas switching both props among 10 starting changes as the All Blacks steamrolled Argentina’s scrum on three occasions – the last leading to Ardie Savea powering over from a lineout.
In their carries and cleans, the All Blacks pack played with the fight of the dog attitude; a chip on their shoulder mentality.
Dane Coles rushing Nicolas Sanchez’s first clearance highlighted the defensive pressure and line speed the All Blacks applied.
With ball in hand, the All Blacks embraced the attacking variety they so lacked last time out, too. They targeted the short side; they were direct from the ruck, they used inside balls and backdoor plays. They offloaded in contact – and they kicked the leather off the ball. Too much so at times.
When through the hands would have done the job they often went for the high-risk kick option to finish attacking movements.
Coles scored the first try in the corner after a cut-out pass from Richie Mo’unga but the All Blacks should have claimed at least two more in the first half. Jordie Barrett was caught too far infield to finish brother Beauden’s cross-field kick, and Caleb Clarke, who otherwise offered major impact throughout, was then pushed out on the other side of the field.
Despite the vastly improved All Blacks attack controlling much of the ball and territory, the Pumas defensive wall remained staunch for long periods. Their scrambling defence prevented many try-scoring chances, stopping Sam Cane, Savea, among others, inches short with desperate efforts on their own line.
While the All Blacks’ finishing execution was off at times unlike their last outing they at least created ample chances to score. And they remained patient.
Gone were the flustered frustrations and hot headed ill-discipline moments – other than Tyrel Lomax’s late yellow card – that proved so costly in successive defeats to the Wallabies and Pumas.
In hot, humid conditions the All Blacks bench injected significantly more impact than in recent weeks – Jordan’s two tries and Patrick Tuipulotu’s final strike cases in point.
Just as they try not to get too low following defeats, the All Blacks won’t get carried away with the margin of victory.
The Pumas did not get anywhere near the same level as their historic victory with repeated mistakes gifting the All Blacks the ball. But they weren’t allowed to either.
With a little less kicking and a little more attacking execution, the All Blacks will now believe next year they can deliver better results than this year’s three win, two loss, one draw record.
All Blacks 38 (Will Jordan 2, Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Richie Mo’unga 5 cons, pen)
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