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Los Pumas new mantra of imperfection driving recent success

By Frankie Deges
Argentina celebrate after defeating New Zealand during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina Pumas at Orangetheory Stadium on August 27, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

“Recuerden este día muchachos. Va a ser de ustedes toda la vida.”

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“Remember this day guys. It will be yours for the rest of your lives.”

The handwritten message on a board in the changing room at the Orangetheory Stadium was a clear message for a Puma side facing their date with destiny.

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One hundred and ninety-five tackles later, Argentina had beaten New Zealand for the first time in New Zealand.

Pushing the All Blacks to an even deeper hole than the one they were a couple of weeks ago was a by-product of a performance that filled a country – oval heads and general sports fans – with pride and joy.

Argentina is going through one of its many crises – economic and political. I won’t bore you with the deep details; hurtful as the current situation is, whatever good news can take the mind of the beaten up ‘argentinos’ will certainly help.

The fact that the win was a reflection of the hard work and effort put into the performance should be a mirror on which to reflect ourselves.

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“Getting that mentality right was important. When you get a first win like this it consolidates the work done,” said Michael Cheika, whose Spanish is getting better as the team grows, a sign of his effort to fit.

“When the game gets difficult and things go against us, we must be strong and enjoy the game. They have the character to do it,” he added.

It wasn’t the perfect game; perfect games are impossible and that is part of the mentality the team has achieved under the new regime. They continuously repeat this almost as a mantra.

It is in this imperfection the team can operate, find its feet, get comfortable and work their game plan the key to their success.

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The All Blacks knew what to expect from Argentina. For years, everybody has acknowledged they are a sticky team that is uncomfortable to play against.

They have every player ready to put their body on the line like there is no tomorrow, eight of them were in double figure tackle counts, but they have now added a patience that was not there in the past – as recent as a couple of games ago – you know whoever stands in front is going to be find it hard.

So it was.

Take lock Tomás Lavannini, sent off the most times (three) in test rugby.

He was his usual monster self; with maturity, or as part of the work done by Cheika and his able staff, he managed to be in the thick of things, ‘only’ managing 17 tackles, without the need to overstep those boundaries he so often trod on.

No yellow cards is already a good game, only giving away a penalty is a massive change in approach.

Standing in a lineout next to the massive Marcos Kremer has to be intimidating. His bushman beard, huge shoulders and the knowledge that he is fearful and hard, has a huge bearing on the opponents.

That he can make 26 tackles – it felt like many more – all of them hurting the opposition both physically and mentally, you have to stand and applaud.

Argentina is far from the finished product, players and staff acknowledge this and understand that as a message it is the correct one.

When asked in the post-game press conference about what had changed psychologically within the team, Cheika, in his need to fit, he attempted an answer in Spanish which didn’t make much sense.

It is a question that still needs an answer, which will explain the process that took to this historic win.

Knowing how street-smart the Aussie coach is, maybe they are downplaying that factor.

Whatever the case is, this is a changed team. You don’t get to beat the All Blacks, at home, as down as they might be if you don’t get the mindset right. They lost but they certainly were not as bad a side as some harsh critics make them to be.

It might not be through a head guru, a sports psychologist, or someone of that kind of CV, but the whole team mentally is changing.

Had it not been for an implosion in the first test against the Wallabies in the second half when the team lost its bearings, by giving away penalties by the dozen, it could have been a different story.

They were much stronger in the second test win and now they achieved Cheika’s first test win in New Zealand, a date already stamped in Argentina’s proud history.

Pride was a common thread to this storyline. All those interviewed post-game were quick to point out how proud they were on the work done and thankful of their clubs of origin. Such a common message is part of work behind the scenes to get them on the same page.

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Knowing where you come from helps on the road to where you are going.

“When things get difficult and go against us, we must be strong and enjoy the game. The players have the character to do it,” said Cheika.

To which his captain Julián Montoya added: “We go on to the field, but we are many more than 23 players. This is for a lot of people, and we must enjoy the win and continue in this process of growth.”

When Montoya said that his team was so confident that they were “ready to play two more hours” it speaks volumes for the confidence they’ve achieved. The character that was developed.

In a few days, Hamilton awaits for the rematch. Impossible to imagine what that can bring.

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