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‘Bit of a hairy moment’: Damian McKenzie reacts to the All Blacks’ ‘lucky’ start

By Finn Morton
Damian McKenzie of New Zealand walks out prior to the Rugby Championship match between Argentina and New Zealand at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas on July 8, 2023 in Mendoza, Argentina. (Photo by Gaspafotos/MB Media/Getty Images)

The All Blacks laid down their challenge to Los Pumas on Saturday with a scintillating rendition of Kapa o Pango in front of a buzzing crowd at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.

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After a week in Mendoza, the New Zealanders appeared eager to start their Rugby Championship campaign. For the first time since the Autumn Nations Series, the All Blacks were back.

But after setting up to receive the kick-off, and as the sold-out crowd began to watch in both silence and anticipation, the All Blacks were nearly caught out by “a hairy moment.”

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Argentina flyhalf Santiago Carreras got the game underway with a routine kick-off, but less than 30 seconds later, the All Blacks were left stunned.

Damian McKenzie had attempted to clear the ball from his own try line, but had the clearance charged down by Los Pumas’ inspirational flanker Pablo Matera.

Matera, who won a Super Rugby title with the Crusaders, leapt out in desperation in an attempt to score the opening try.

It was close. For those New Zealanders who had woken up early on Sunday morning to watch the game, it was probably too close.

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“Really proud of the effort from the boys,” McKenzie said on Sky Sport post-game. “It’s never easy coming over here.

“First time in Mendoza and kind of a loud, passionate crowd.

“Really liked the way, obviously not from the start with our kick-off – it was a bit of a hairy moment there, but when we got our chance to attack I just liked the way the boys rolled their sleeves up and got into our work.

“Really proud of that effort.”

Sitting in the media tribune at the stunning stadium in Mendoza, this journalist looked up at the big screen in a state of disbelief.

By that stage, as the All Blacks began to group up inside their own in-goal, no more than 27 seconds had run on the game clock.

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“They come off the line pretty hard there so we’re just probably lucky we got away with one, it wouldn’t have been the greatest way to start,” he added.

“Once we got our opportunity, I was really proud of how we made the most of our opportunities on attack.

“It’s never easy against an Argentinian side, they’re a great defensive side, a great set-piece. The forwards did a really good job and the backs finished off some good tries.”

Whether you love to hate the All Blacks, or hate to love them, this wasn’t part of the plan. With a World Cup just two months away, nobody expected this from the great rugby team.

Referee Angus Gardner went upstairs to the TMO to check, and the home crowd couldn’t have been more excited.

They were chanting and whistling as the stadium of more than 40,000 fans waited eagerly for the verdict.

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But thankfully for the All Blacks, McKenzie had beaten Matera to the punch – albeit just.

“Damo assured us that he got it down so we just planned for the line dropout,” captain Sam Cane told reporters after the match.

“We talked about if they kick off again, we’ll make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again.

“They obviously put a lot of pressure on Jordie (Barrett) and he got nailed behind the advantage line, and then the next tackle we got nailed behind the advantage line too.

“We made some subtle changes there and I think we were a lot better for it.”

Off the back of Pablo Matera’s early heroics, Los Pumas controlled the opening exchanges of this Test match.

The All Blacks didn’t touch the ball inside the Argentine half for the first four and a half minutes, but once they did, they shifted into a new gear.

Centre Rieko Ioane broke the game open with a stunning line break, and veteran Dane Coles crossed for the All Blacks’ first try moments later.

Following a 31-nil first-half blitz, the All Blacks took a commanding lead into the sheds at the break. They weren’t going to be denied from there.

While Los Pumas fought valiantly in the second term, the New Zealanders held on for a confidence-building 41-12 win in Mendoza.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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