The Wallabies are the team Los Pumas know how to play, we'll see about the All Blacks
Altitude has always been an issue with rugby. The rarified air of the veldt and the length a ball can travel have been topics of discussion for ages.
After so many years of Super Rugby and Tri Nations/Rugby Championship, teams have found ways to minimize the risk.
How will Argentina deal with being at the top of the Rugby Championship table, the heady height of number one, after two rounds is something that time will tell.
When a week ago, we wrote about the mental stability of a Puma team that failed to manage their own pressures and expectations, no-one was expecting a recovery of the strength and standard of that seen in San Juan, when the Wallabies were totally obliterated and lost by a record margin.
With the four competing teams tied at five tournament points, Los Pumas 48-17 win placed them at the top of the table.
They are now in Sydney, resting ahead of their trip across the Tasman for round three and an All Black side that has remembered how good it feels to win.
“This win was, for the people, for everybody, important. But for us we need to take this game and set it as our standard, and be better for the next game,” were, give or take, Michael Cheika’s words in broken Spanish after the end of the game.
Many said the performance was perfect; it wasn’t but it showed what this team can become. It can be argued that what Argentina did under the San Juan sun shows that the Wallabies are the team Los Pumas know how to play better.
Wins in 2014, 2018, two draws in 2020 and moments in other games in which Los Pumas were better, came to fruition on Saturday as everything they did turned to, a bit of a pun intended, gold.
By bringing the penalty-count down to nine throughout the game, it showed how much work had been done in the week leading up to the rematch. Both technical and mental.
The previous week in Mendoza, there were moments in which the home side showed how well they could play but it was not a complete game and imploding for 20 minutes, the game was lost.
The Wallabies, certainly missing the leadership of Michael Hooper, were a shadow of the team they had been a week earlier. With a disappointing start that yielded 14 points in seven minutes, including the first of seven tries within the first sixty seconds, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Dave Rennie’s team.
Argentina were better in the scrum and rather than playing quick ball from the lineout, opted for mauling the Wallabies with incredible success. One maul in the second half was only stopped some 40 metres from where it had started.
“We were much better than last week; for fifty, fifty-five minutes we were still quite even in the score. Out attitude to continue playing, to try to be better in each action, made me very happy,” said Cheika who is back at home, using with the team his Randwick club field, and why not Coogee Beach across the street, before the short trip to New Zealand.
The hard work was noticeable and the ability to correct on-the-go showed how the new Puma staff has gelled and how they are reaching out to players, a mix of very experienced players and a younger generation that is coming through with great success.
Youth will be prominent in the squad to play New Zealand, mostly in the front row where 37-year old Agustín Creevy will pass on his No 16 jersey to 22-year old Ignacio Ruiz.
Also missing will be props Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and Francisco Gómez Kodela, senior statesmen of the front row.
Thomas Gallo, only 23, will land in Christchurch for the first time, on the back of scoring a brace, his personal second, against Australia. A tour guide will probably be Pablo Matera, who after being a Super Rugby champion with the Crusaders, returns to the Garden City aiming to recreate his high standard there.
The hard test that the All Blacks always represent comes with the added pressure of a team that came back from a dark place to win with pragmatism against the Springboks.
Uncertain at the time of writing what will happen with the coaching staff, they certainly still have their backs against the wall and are very dangerous. They have always been and Los Pumas, with a huge input from Cheika, have beaten them only once in 2020.
Since the start of The Rugby Championship in 2012, Argentina would travel to New Zealand for round three. Never were they leading in a congested table.
Looking from the dizzy heights is great.
The team is on an upward trend, regardless of the outcome of the two-test series against the All Blacks.
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