Los Pumas made history on Saturday in Sydney, becoming just the sixth nation to beat the All Blacks, winning 25-15.
The impact of COVID-19 and a lack of game time saw Argentina go into the test as ranked outsiders, having not played an international in 402 days.
Even though the All Blacks were coming off a two-point loss to Australia the week before, seeing that they hadn’t previously lost two games in a row in nearly a decade, everything was pointing towards a comfortable victory for the men in black.
Both teams traded penalties inside 12 minutes but from then on, it was the underdogs who took control.
The Pumas defence was solid throughout the 80 minutes, with captain Pablo Matera leading by example. But the standout player from the fixture was without a doubt flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, who scored all 25-points for his side.
— Sky Sport NZ (@skysportnz) November 14, 2020
While there’s still plenty of rugby to be played, that’s true, the win over the All Blacks has well and truly opened up the Tri Nations. The result puts Argentina in uncharted waters; now just one win away from leading the standings, and they’re already in a good position to win it all.
In fact, in many ways, the Tri Nations is Argentina’s to lose.
Here’s where each team stands.
For some reason, Argentina have always been treated as if they’re a tier two nation playing in a tier-one competition, that being the Rugby Championship (or Tri Nations this year). It was as if they were included just to make up the numbers.
Nobody seriously considered them as genuine title contenders before Saturday, and even after, most would still have doubts.
On Sky Sport NZ’s show The Breakdown, All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan joked about the “mitigating circumstances” that the Pumas have faced, as he outlined exactly why he thought the All Blacks would win the test comfortably, even if they had opted for a weakened side.
But instead they didn’t just beat the All Blacks, they dominated their opponents.
Over the last 15 years, Los Pumas have constantly been improving, and building towards notable wins like we saw on Saturday.
They really announced themselves as a potential force in World Rugby at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when, against the odds, they managed to place third after a convincing 34-10 victory over hosts France in the bronze final.
Four years later, they lost to New Zealand in the quarter-finals, before joining the Rugby Championship the next year. While results didn’t come right away, they peaked perfectly in time for the 2015 World Cup, making it to the semi-finals for the second time.
The inclusion of the Jaguares in Super Rugby has also improved developmental pathways for up-and-coming talent within Argentinian rugby. After a slow first few years, they reached the final in last year’s Super Rugby competition, where they lost to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The point is, Argentinian rugby has come a long way and has improved drastically over the past decade or so. The win over the All Blacks was always going to happen eventually.
But the challenge that the Pumas face coming off the win is making sure that they can back up playing the game of their lives with regular performances like that. A win against the All Blacks would’ve always have been targeted but to perform like that again in this tournament will be tough to do.
But on their day, they’ve proven that they can match it with the best.
If they can record another convincing win this weekend, then the Tri Nations would very much be theirs for the taking.
It’s not too farfetched to suggest that the Pumas next test in the Tri Nations will determine if they’re contenders or pretenders for the title. Proving doubters wrong against the All Blacks was impressive but backing it up is what they need – consistency is key.
Up next for the South American outfit is the Wallabies in Newcastle, a side they beat 23-19 two years ago on the Gold Coast.
The Wallabies have won one from two so far, going down 43-5 to the All Blacks in Sydney before bouncing back in Brisbane. But with a points-difference that’s significantly worse than the All Blacks, and without any bonus points while the All Blacks have two, they need a win this weekend.
They can’t afford to drop either of their final two tests which are both against the Pumas.
To beat their increasingly confident opponents though, the Wallabies need to find a way to expose weaknesses in the Argentinian defence, which was a brick wall last weekend. Utility Reece Hodge admitted on Sunday that players in the Australian squad were impressed with the Pumas defensive performance.
“They didn’t give the All Blacks an inch,” Hodge said.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 15, 2020
“It’s one thing to do it against Australia A and another to do it against the All Blacks.
“They have obviously been training very hard and had that game circled for a long time and they were pretty clinical and played with a lot of passion and a lot of skill.
“We had a BBQ last night after a big training day and a few of the boys were discussing how tough a challenge they are going to be.”
But the Pumas should rate their chances ahead of the test in Newcastle, obviously after beating the All Blacks, but also because of their performances against “Australia A” as Hodge mentioned.
The Pumas played two matches against a Rugby Australia XV to warm up for the All Blacks and Wallabies. That side was made up of non-matchday squad members, with the likes of Pete Samu, Fraser McReight and Joe Powell featuring.
Argentina won both matches convincingly.
The visitors aren’t favourites going into Saturday’s match, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if they register another win. They’re prepared well despite challenges, beaten strong opposition, and could claim Tri Nations favouritism if they win this week – as would their opponents to be fair.
For both the Wallabies and the Pumas, this is a must-win – effectively, it’s a quasi-knockout match.
Even though they came into the competition as favourites, the All Blacks hopes of winning this year’s Tri Nations have begun to fade after a one from three start.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 16, 2020
But to contest for the title, they’ll need results to go their way – it’s largely out of their control. They have a bye this week, but one win apiece for Argentina and Australia against each other would go a long way to bringing the All Blacks back into the fight.
To be any chance though, they also have to beat the Pumas when they meet again on the 28th. It’s a match that they’ll be expected to win; three losses in a row couldn’t happen, could it?
They’ll be hungry for revenge and that’s something that Argentina will be weary of.
The All Blacks just have to sit and wait though, with the title set to come down to a decider on the last day, but only if they win their last test of the year.
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