As the Bledisloe Cup IV post mortem moves into the new test week, the All Blacks are beginning to turn their focus to the upcoming task of squaring off against Argentina.
The Pumas stand as somewhat of an unknown entity in the context of the Tri-Nations given they haven’t played an official test match since they were bundled out of last year’s World Cup in pool play.
In fact, the All Blacks have just two warm-up matches to analyse a team mostly made up of players who, until just over a week ago, hadn’t played a game of rugby since March.
That doesn’t mean All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, who was absent from New Zealand’s 24-22 defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday, isn’t expecting anything different from a side renowned for their aggressive playing style.
“Very physical forward pack, so we’re expecting a big, physical battle,” Coles said of what he anticipates when the All Blacks face off against the South Americans at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney.
Teammate and experienced midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, who started at centre at Suncorp Stadium, appeared to agree, pointing to Argentina’s passion as something his side will have to contain this weekend.
“They’re a passionate country and they’re passionate men, so they’re going to want to put their best foot forward and I think they’ll be excited about versing us,” Lienert-Brown said.
“I have no doubt that they’ll turn up, ready and raring to go.”
It seems the Pumas turned up and were raring to go when they faced a Rugby Australia XV, which featured fringe Wallabies like Isi Naisarani, Joe Powell and Fraser McReight, at Leichhardt Oval two days ago.
Mario Ledesma’s side emerged 57-24 victors in that clash, a week after they pipped the same opposition 19-15 without their hefty contingent of European-based players.
Coles revealed the All Blacks squad were starting to assess the footage from those matches, but Lienert-Brown said the presence of former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who has joined the Pumas as an assistant coach, wasn’t noticeable in their play.
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“In all honesty, I probably wasn’t thinking like that when I was watching the footage, but I’m sure he has had an influence in that environment,” the 47-test star said.
“He probably quite likes his forward pack because he likes to play a fast-tempo game with big ball-carrying forwards, so I’m sure he’ll influence that way.”
Regardless, the All Blacks will need to return to their best after struggling in Queensland, but they might have to do so without prop Ofa Tuungafasi, who is awaiting the verdict of a judicial hearing after being red-carded for a dangerous tackle.
The 28-year-old was sent from the field for a high tackle on Wallabies debutant Tom Wright in the first half, instigating a downward spiral which led to a defeat that has blown the Tri-Nations title race open.
Coles conceded his front row partner was “gutted” in the wake of the incident, but was insistent that the entire team’s mentality around defence – not just Tuungafasi’s – needs to change if they’re to avoid a repeat of Saturday’s result.
“It’s not just Ofa’s thing, it’s all of us. We’ve got a few penalties around head-highs, so we need to be way better in that department,” Coles said.
“I suppose discipline was a bit of a let down on the weekend, so it’s one on the chin for all of us to get on the tackle bags, lower our height and make sure we’re better.
“Even if we’ve got a split second, we’ve just got to make sure we get under the ball and not get tackled in the air.”
With that in mind, the Argentines should brace themselves from a more polished defensive performance from their counterparts, if Coles’ comments are anything to go by.
“Ofa’s a big lad, but we’ve just got to be better,” the veteran rake said.
“We do a lot of tackling practice during the week, and it’s only a split second to make that decision, but we’ve just got to lower our sights and our target to not get those red cards again because us tackling the same way ain’t going to change things, so we need to be better than that.”
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