The All Blacks enter the final game of the 2020 season looking to avoid three straight defeats for the first time since 1998, having lost to Argentina and Australia in their last two outings.
After starting the season with a draw, the All Blacks currently sit with an uncharacteristically low win rate with an overall record of 2-2-1.
Despite the tough year, Ian Foster’s side still has a chance to win the Tri-Nations and they have already retained the Bledisloe Cup.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Blues hooker James Parsons said that the last test is a great opportunity to show what the side is made of in trying circumstances, with the experience of 2020 a great one to learn from in the future.
“If they can get out of it by winning the Tri-Nations, retaining the Bledisloe, in what is perceived to be a poor year by All Blacks standards, I think that would be a great sign of character, culture and a growth of their unit and where they want to go to,” he said.
“Let’s not forget, after that big drumming of the Wallabies [in Sydney] they said, ‘We feel like we are creating something special’. Sam Cane said it, Ian Foster said it, ‘We’re building something special here’.
“I harped on about it that week and I know there has been two losses, but if they can fight their way out of it that will be a sign of their true character as a team and something they will be able to draw on when it comes to even more pressure moments, like World Cups.
“With many new All Blacks coming into the side in 2020, experiencing these losses now could prove crucial as the side prepares to build towards a World Cup in France in 2023.
“Against the greater nations in the Northern Hemisphere, they will be able to draw on these experiences so early in their four-year cycle.
“I think it’s still a powerful place for us to build off. Not the end of the world, and again I’ll state, I don’t want them to lose but it’s a great experience for a lot of young men, a lot of new guys into the group.”
Fellow panellist and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall suggested the tables have turned now that Argentina has been playing for two weeks straight.
While the All Blacks have freshened up following the bye week, Argentina head into their third consecutive test perhaps more fatigued compared to the first time the two sides played at Bankwest Stadium a fortnight ago.
“What I’m looking forward to is, can Argentina put three good test matches together in a row?” Hall asked.
“They played really well against the All Blacks, probably slipped off a little bit defensively [towards the end]. To be a good test match team, you’ve got to back it up week after week after week.
“Argentina have got an opportunity against the All Blacks, who are going to be hurting, fresh after a bye week, reviewing and previewing. They’ll be boiling a little bit.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to seeing if Argentina can come to the party and put three in a row performing really well.”
A key turning point of the last match was the All Blacks’ ill-discipline, as they fell into the trap of being baited by the Pumas forwards.
Hall said All Blacks mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka will put a greater emphasis on dealing with those situations this week.
“No doubt Gilbert Enoka will be having a lot to say this week around the off-the-ball actions that happened in the previous test. You saw it on the weekend, both sides were getting into the argy bargy.”
Parsons suggested Blues teammate Patrick Tuipulotu’s comments in yesterday’s press conference is indicative of that, but the approach has to be whatever works for the individual.
“You heard Patty [Tuipulotu] come out yesterday and say as an individual, he’s going to walk away from it and just focus on his next task,” he said.
“I’d say that’s a general message across the board because there are times when it can work for you, like we’ve seen instances at the Eden Park test, you know Dane Coles giving a little bit of a rub on the head to a few people.
“It worked for him. It fuelled him to perform better but if it fuels you in a way that detracts from your game, and what you need to do for the team then you’ve got to step back and know what works for you as an individual.”
Hall believed the All Blacks should prepare to hold their ground, noting they don’t need to react although they can stand up in those situations and not back down.
“Its pretty similar down at the Crusaders, when you play the Chiefs or anyone where they are a bit niggly, you are probably told to walk away from it and just concentrate on your own role. You know it’s coming so prepare for it the best you can.
“The thing I’ve been thinking of around it is, you don’t want to be a pushover, but if you actually just engage and just say that you are there, you aren’t doing anything harmful to your team but just to let them know that you are there.
“That’s fine. It’s when you start giving penalties away it harms the team.”
Parsons added the right game plan could defuse the Pumas before they even get started, forcing them out of their comfort zone.
“It is a balance. They won’t be ‘pushovers’, it won’t get to a point where they are ‘pushovers’, but the biggest thing is they’ve got to play a game plan and a style that takes that out of the game.
“Early we should see a bit of kicking and give the ball back. Argentina, again, based their game on D, and they had 34 percent territory, 40 percent possession and they just tackled their hearts out all night [against the Wallabies].
“And they tackled at 94 percent, so they love defending, so why not give the ball back to them and make them do something they don’t want to do? Let us bring the physical intent.
“Really break them down and play it like an 80-minute chess match. Work and work and work and eventually we will be able to play our natural style. But it’s going to take a bit of time, but if we do that early it would take the strength away from Argie.
“If the Pumas can’t get into their tackling, they will need to find some other way to get energised and build confidence.
“They won’t get some much crash and bash and feed off their defence, there’s not so much hype and energy they can feed off and then they are going to have find energy to feed off elsewhere.”
Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby pod below:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now