The tactical trap the All Blacks fell into against the Pumas - and how the Wallabies can avoid it
It would be fair to suggest Argentina’s stunning 25-15 win over the All Blacks in Sydney over the weekend ranks as one of the biggest test rugby upsets in the professional era.
Few – next to nobody, in fact – expected to Los Pumas to rock up to Bankwest Stadium and register their first-ever victory over the New Zealanders, not after all that they have been through this year.
Everyone knows the story by now – Mario Ledesma’s squad had to wait 402 days to take to the field after their last appearance against the United States at last year’s World Cup.
Of those within his squad, many had not played any competitive rugby since March due to COVID-19, a virus of which a dozen players and Ledesma himself contracted after they first assembled back in August.
That forced Los Pumas to train either individually in isolation, in small groups or without physical contact for large parts of their preparation for the Tri Nations.
Compare that to those within the All Blacks set-up, all of whom were exposed to a full Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, a North vs South clash and four straight tests against a Wallabies side that defeated them a week prior to the boil over at Bankwest.
With all that in mind, Argentina should have had no chance, but what transpired was an immaculate display of committed, passionate and accurate defence that put the All Blacks under pressure and allowed them little room to work their magic.
The Kiwi forward pack gained no ascendency over their South American counterparts, who were led by inspirational captain Pablo Matera, and the frustration shown by the likes of Dane Coles and Shannon Frizell was clear for all to see.
Without front foot ball, the New Zealand backline were not only meek on attack, they didn’t know what to do or how to combat what the Argentines were throwing at them.
While they were able to punish the Wallabies when they fell off tackles at will in Bledisloe II and III, key men such as Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Jordie Barrett – who ran for just two metres – had no answers in western Sydney.
After having assessed Argentina’s impressive display with his Wallabies teammates, four-test flanker Liam Wright has pinpointed one aspect his side will need to learn from New Zealand’s woes to stand any chance against Los Pumas in Newcastle this weekend.
“I think they attack the breakdown quite well,” he told reporters over a Zoom call on Monday of Argentina’s efforts.
“As we know with Argentina, their hookers are actually quite good over the ball as well. They’ve had [Agustin] Creevy in the past, and now [Julian] Montoya on the weekend managed to do it as well.
“They’ve essentially got four back-rowers there who are constantly looking for that ball. Pablo got a lot of play on the weekend, but their second-rowers are able to slow the breakdown as well by dominating their tackles and holding people up.
“For us to get quick breakdown ball, we have to target their back-row, and just make sure we’re getting good collisions and win that contact battle, otherwise it’s going to be a long day, they’re going to slow up our ball and it makes it hard to get any go-forward.”
The All Blacks have dropped back down to third after the shock loss.https://t.co/61LgffH0tZ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 16, 2020
Having already faced off against Argentina as part of a Rugby Australia XV that gave the world’s 10th ranked side two warm-up games leading into the All Blacks clash, Wright has an inkling of what to expect from Los Pumas.
Renowned for their physicality, which was on full show against the New Zealanders, the 23-year-old Queensland Reds captain anticipates the Argentines to use their sizeable forwards to full advantage once again at McDonald Jones Stadium.
One tactic in particular that Wright noticed was Argentina’s ambition to try and hold attacking players up off their feet when carrying the ball into contact.
In order to nullify that threat that they trapped the All Blacks into, how the Wallabies attack the Argentinian defensive line will be crucial to Australia’s chances of success.
“I think that’s a tactic that a lot of the teams with those big forward packs like that will use,” Wright said.
“Even if you don’t get the return, the turnover, it gives your defensive line a lot of time to set and, that way, the next time they can come forward and smash them again and it’s a continuous cycle like that.
“So, we’ve got to be wary of our body height and make sure we’re not going in too high, otherwise they’ll have a field day on us.”
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