How Los Pumas shut down the All Blacks lineout and forced a rethink
While the All Blacks eventually emerged as comfortable victors from their skirmish with Los Pumas on Sunday night, the Argentinians put up a huge fight in the first half, defending stoutly and putting huge pressure on lineout ball.
In the opening 37 minutes, New Zealand managed just one try, scoring a second shortly before the break. That’s despite the fact they had in excess of 60 per cent possession and territory and is a testament to the commitment of the Pumas defence.
Argentina’s lineout jumpers also snaffled two balls out of the hands of second-rower Scott Barrett in the first quarter, which prevented the All Blacks from taking advantage of said possession and territory.
With Asafo Aumua delivering the ball into the lineout – in just his first test start – there was every chance that the aggressive Argentinian jumpers could throw the young hooker off his game, but the All Blacks adjusted, shifting their target to number 8 Luke Jacobson at the front of the line, and suddenly lineout wins weren’t so hard to come by.
“I think it’s probably credit to the way Argies defend,” said Scott Barrett this week. “They’re pretty structured and disciplined in their system, shutting off the back and middle areas of the lineout which is the best ball to launch from and where you want to win the ball.
“We adapted as the game went on and had to win the ball in other areas that are probably not what the backs want. I guess it’s what the Argies want to give us, worse quality ball from that set-piece.”
Senior hooker, Codie Taylor, who sat out the match due to a head-knock suffered a week earlier, made similar comments.
“I think it’s pretty evident that most teams these days are trying to take away that middle [and] back ball because it’s such good ball to attack from,” he said, “and you have to come up with other ways to take that away from them and still be able to attack.
“I thought the boys managed that really well. I think [the Pumas] got a couple of lineouts but there was 20 all up, so that’s not too bad – 90 per cent odd.
“It’s just what teams are doing against us and it’s smart, they force you to the front [where] it’s harder to attack from.”
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions after a handful of tests this year, but there were glimpses during the two back-to-back tests on the Gold Coast that a changing of the guard may be coming. #NZLvARG #RSAvAUS #AllBlacks
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) September 13, 2021
Taylor was impressed with the performances of both the two 24-year-old hookers on the night, Aumua and Samisoni Taukei’aho, who have amassed just eight games between them.
“[Test rugby] is definitely a step up,” Taylor said. “Argentina are a class side. Their forward pack is massive and they pride themselves on their set-piece, as well as their defensive set-piece.
“I think [Aumua and Taukei’aho] played really well. Safs [Aumua] went out there and did his thing. He carried the ball hard and nailed his role so it was awesome to see, for a man that’s chipped away for a couple of years and got an opportunity, I’m sure he’s going to get plenty more so it was good to see. And Sons [Taukei’aho] has just slipped in nicely and is doing what he has to do to be able to perform his role for the team.”
Taylor will likely be back in the line-up for this weekend’s rematch with the Pumas while Barrett is set to start his third game in as many weeks. The second-rower is confident that the All Blacks can find solutions to the Pumas’ ingenuity in shutting down the All Blacks’ longer throws but, understandably, isn’t willing to give away any insider secrets on the matter.
“There is a few different ways [to] take that back ball,” he said. “I don’t want to give them our plans for the weekend though, because they might be sitting right there where we want to win the ball.
“We’ve got a plan. We’re going to have to adjust, obviously, to the way they defend. We can’t get too carried away with trying to jump on their big, tall men. We’ve got [to find] the space and take it.”
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