Were it not for a few soft penalties, the All Blacks may well have escaped from their previous match against Argentina with a win. Instead, Los Pumas secured a historic victory, prevailing 25-15.
18 of Argentina’s points came from penalty kicks at goal, with sharpshooter Nicolas Sanchez nailing six of his seven attempts on the post.
Indirectly, the All Blacks probably also found themselves on the wrong side of Australian referee Angus Gardner due to a few early incidents which got the men in black off to a poor start.
First, NZ had a penalty reversed due to some misbehaviour from hooker Dane Coles. Flanker Shannon Frizell was spoken too soon after and then Los Pumas’ second penalty came due to a late tackle from Jordie Barrett after an Argentinian clearing kick.
In the All Blacks’ defence, Los Pumas gave as good as they got and were probably lucky to escape with only 16 penalties conceded (three more than New Zealand). The Barrett charge was especially harsh on NZ – but that’s sometimes what happens when you’ve already found yourself on the back foot due to some poor decision-making earlier in the game.
Coles, speaking after the team naming for the upcoming rematch, admitted the All Blacks needed to hold their discipline better.
“They do bring a lot of heat in that department but we can’t let them dictate that kind of stuff,” Coles said.
“We know it’s going to come this week as well so we’ve just gotta make sure we [impose ourselves] the right way – in tackles, in carries and cleanouts. If they bring a little bit of niggly stuff, just have a bit of a word, smile and get back to the next task.
“As hard as it is sometimes to take, you’ve just got to walk away with a big smile on your face and get on with your next task and you can’t retaliate because discipline was a massive factor and they just kept ticking those threes over, putting us under pressure.”
Having been present for two historic losses in recent years, against Ireland in 2016 and Argentina two weeks ago, Coles is also aware that he can struggle more with keeping a cool head than some of his teammates. The 33-year-old was voted ‘biggest grub’ in a poll of New Zealand Super Rugby players earlier this year, after all.
“I suppose for myself, being a competitive person, I probably let myself down, gave one of the old boys a slap around the head and stuff like that,” Coles said.
“I suppose [with] my personality, it probably is a little bit harder. I’ve probably got to do the most work in the team to make sure [I’m not responding to niggle]. Especially being a leader and a senior player, I’ve got to make sure I lead by example and I didn’t do that in the Pumas game.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t play hard and have some intent, it’s just doing the stupid stuff that costs penalties and keeps them in the game. Individually, I’ve probably had to do more than most people in the team to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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On-field off-the-ball incidents have been a topic of hot debate this year in the Southern Hemisphere. Dave Rennie’s Wallabies brought plenty of aggression in the four-match Bledisloe Cup series, while Saturday’s clash between Australia and Argentina also got heated at times. Coles is unsure whether that’s due to frustration or some other factor.
“I don’t have the answer, to be fair,” he said. “I suppose it probably has been highlighted a lot more. There’s been a lot more questions from the media about it. Even the Aussie-Argie game, we watched it and there was a bit in there.
“I’m not too sure why it is but if it happens, like we said, we’ve just got to do the right thing and walk away.
“Letting their frustrations out and maybe roomed with the wrong fella during the week? I’m not sure.”
Coles will again wear the No. 2 jersey on Saturday night in the All Blacks’ final match of the year.
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