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New Zealand U20s v Argentina U20s: Can’t do that against NZ, Kiwis on track for title

By Finn Morton
Dylan Pledger of New Zealand makes a break before scoring a try during The Rugby Championship U20 Round 2 match between New Zealand and Argentina at Sunshine Coast Stadium on May 07, 2024 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The Baby Blacks are potentially one more win away from claiming the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 trophy after thrashing Argentina U20 43-20 on the Sunshine Coast.

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Halfback Dylan Pledger scored the opener inside the first two minutes, and after a try to  Malachi Wrampling-Alec shortly after, it became apparent that this would be New Zealand’s night.

Argentina, who defeated hosts Australia in the opening round of the tournament, threw everything they could at their opponent but poor discipline and execution proved costly.

The New Zealanders took a strong lead into the half-time sheds and took things up another gear during the second term as they ran away with a commanding win.

Here are four takeaways from New Zealand U20s’ commanding bonus point win over Los Pumitas.

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‘YOU CAN’T DO THAT’ AGAINST ANY NEW ZEALAND TEAM

Back in 2018, the All Black thrashed France 52-11 at Auckland’s Eden Park. Les Bleus had actually scored the opener before losing their way through a one-sided second half.

Lock Paul Gabrillagues was sent to the sin bin in the 50th minute and the All Blacks made the most of that opportunity with Rugby World Cup winners Codie Taylor and Ben Smith before adding to All Blacks’ score during that period.

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The rugby world was reminded of a key rugby lesson that night. As Bernard Le Roux said in the lead-up to the second Test of that series: “We lost our focus and you can’t do that against the All Blacks, so we let in a few points.”

The All Blacks have a history of making the most of poor discipline and half-opportunities, and the same can also be said about seemingly any rugby team who calls Aotearoa home. Whatever the reason, it just seems to happen time and time again.

Playing against the Argentina U20s, the Baby Blacks shot out of the blocks with two tries in six minutes. Halfback Dylan Pledger and backrower Malachi Wrampling-Alec both scored before the Argies had really woken up.

Argentina needed to hit back but they only had themselves to blame.

Los Pumitas first five Mateo Fossati, who had been beaten far too easy in the lead-up to Pledger’s try, missed a long-range shot at goal about 12 minutes into the contest.

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Immediately after, centre Tomas Bocco was gifted a try scoring opportunity with a poorly-executed 22 drop-out but was held up over the line.

While Fossati kicked Argentina’s first points of the night shortly after, the real kick in the guts was a yellow card to lock Luciano Asevedo.

Down a man, the Baby Blacks made their opponents pay with Wrampling-Alec scoring another try that put the Kiwis in a prime position to take out the contest

Argentina, to their credit, scored through second-rower Efrain Elias with just 14-men on the park – they had dominated various set piece battles in the lead-up to that moment – but the damage was already done on the scoreboard from a New Zealand point of view.

Poor execution and an inexcusable yellow card cost Argentina, and as Le Roux said all those years ago, “You can’t do that” against New Zealand.

NEW-LOOK HALVES DUO STEP UP

New Zealand U20 coach Jono Gibbes rolled the dice this week by making seven changes to the team that drew with South Africa 13-all last Thursday.

From the outside looking in, it always appears to be an interesting decision for any team to make mass changes, but it’s worked for the Hurricanes and now the Baby Blacks.

Halves pairing Dylan Pledger and Rico Simpson came into the starting side, and so did midfielder Tokufa Paongo. Both wingers were new, and so was fullback Sam Coles.

There were two changes in the forward with Cam Christie and Matt Lowe earning a promotion into the run on side.

But from the fresh faces in the starting, it’s hard to look past the impact the halves duo had.

Dylan Pledger scored after just 74 seconds of play and later added another five-pointer to the Baby Blacks’ lead before leaving the field for a well-earned break.

As for first five Simpson, who registered two try assists off the pine against the Junior Springboks, there was a noticeable level of control, composure and skill from the playmaker.

Simpson looked comfortable in the No. 10 jumper and both the backs and forwards seemed to thrive off that.

With the Baby Blacks hoping to end the tournament on a high note against the Aussies this weekend, it seems to make sense for both men to get to a start once again.

ALL BLACKS COACHES WILL BE QUITE HAPPY

With rain lightly pouring onto the playing surface on the Sunshine Coast, All Blacks assistant coaches Jason Ryan and Leon MacDonald made their way to their seats.

Two of New Zealand’s greatest rugby minds prepared to watch some future All Blacks prospects take the field against the Argies, and upon review, they’ll be quite happy with what they saw.

Everyone at Sunshine Coast Stadium was either cheering or left stunned when halfback Dylan Pledger scored the opener after just 74 seconds, and the Baby Blacks added to their lead four minutes later through Malachi Wrampling-Alec.

There was plenty to like on both side of ball from the New Zealand U20s.

New Zealand largely dominated the collision battle in phase play and also scored some stunning tries – both forwards and backs showcasing their flare with these efforts.

But, it’s true they were beaten up by the Argentina forwards a fair but they stepped up to the plate when they needed to. That’s Los Pumitas’ clear strength after all.

So, when coaches Ryan and MacDonald report potentially back to Scott Robertson, there will be plenty of positives as a New Zeeland collective, and some particular players who stood out.

But there’s also plenty to work on, and from a coaching point of view, that might be even more exciting as they look to help the All Blacks return to the top in the years to come.

Take the positives but learn the lessons.

NEW ZEALAND HAVE ONE HAND ON THE TRC U20 TROPHY

New Zealand U20’s opening round 13-all draw with the Junior Springboks in torrential conditions wasn’t exactly a great result for either team, but it wasn’t a terrible one either.

In a competition as tight as this, with all three teams playing one another in a 10 day period, the Baby Blacks would have an opportunity to make amends very, very soon.

But their next match, which of course was against a then-table-topping Argentina outfit, was a must-win. They would’ve been eliminated from title contention with a defeat.

But a win would’ve been a tournament-changer for all the right reasons. If they could get the job done against the form side from the opening round, then the Baby Blacks would be in the box seat to take out the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 title themselves.

New Zealand made a statement with Xavier Taele linking up with Dylan Pledger to score the first try after just 74 seconds of play. First five Rico Simpson was lining up another shot at goal long after as well.

The men in black looked very good for large portions of this contest and that showed on the scoreboard. While Argentina threw absolutely everything at their opponents, and even scored a few times, it was clearly the Kiwi’s night.

With one more match to play in the tournament, New Zealand could potentially claim the title with a win over arch-rivals Australia this weekend. They’re in the box seat to do just that but of course it’ll also depend on other results.

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