Australia may have lost the Bledisloe Cup again this year, but they have a good chance of winning the Tri Nations title after Argentina pulled off the upset of the decade by defeating New Zealand 25-15 on Saturday.
The Wallabies have two games left, both against Argentina, and will need to win both in order to give new coach Dave Rennie his first trophy. But Argentina also have a chance, as they have three games in hand, including one against New Zealand.
The South Americans’ victory over New Zealand was anything but expected, coming as it did after 29 Tests in which they managed only one draw back in 1985.
New Zealand’s big guns were all back in the 15, but they played a terrible game with no continuity, an inability to retain possession, a lack of discipline and a lack of common sense too. At times many players looked uninterested as well, making one wonder whether there are any issues within the team as there were in the early 2000s.
That lack of common sense was demonstrated in the fact not one of their experienced hands realised they were not clicking and suggested to the team brains trust that they instead try and convert the penalties they received in the second half – they got eight – which were within kicking distance for Ritchie Mo’unga.
Had the scrumhalf been an erratic kicker like Carlos Spencer, then one could have understood a reluctance to try and take the three points on offer. But Mo’unga has something like an 80 per cent success rate.
The All Blacks have a streak of arrogance in them that always dictates they will kick and take a lineout instead, always arguing that they can score a try rather than take three points. During the reign of John Mitchell they used to scoff at people who suggested they practice drop goals, with Mitchell saying they would score tries aplenty due to the speeds backs he had. We all know what happened in the World Cup semi-final of 2003…
Argentina were disciplined and very accurate on the day. One statistic says it all: the Pumas had just one handling error in the 80 minutes. Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kicked straight and true, missing just one of the seven penalties he attempted. He also scored his side’s lone try and converted it.
They certainly didn’t look like a team that had not played a competitive game for more than a year. Their skipper, Pablo Matera, was breathing fire every step of the way, while No. 8 Rodrigo Bruni was fierce in attack and defence.
Scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli hardly made an error, in sharp contrast to his opposite number, Aaron Smith, who had a bad game by anyone’s standards, let alone his own. All Blacks hooker Dane Coles seemed more interested in a bit of biff than the game, while his Pumas hooker Julian Montoya was the exact opposite.
When one man could not make a tackle and bring down a New Zealand player two joined in, and in this manner they managed to neutralise even Caleb Clarke, who has shown the ability to break tackles with ease. Clarke was reduced to a shadow of the man who started the game in Sydney against Australia.
Despite finding themselves unable to make progress through a passing game, the All Blacks failed to make use of a kicking game, with practically all their kicks being wasted efforts that just gave the ball away. It was a massive contrast from the time they played Australia in Sydney and used the kicking game with great skill. And these were the same players out on the paddock.
In short, New Zealand were beaten in every aspect of the game. Their scrum was treated with disdain and the experienced prop Joe Moody, back after a concussion break, was put under tremendous pressure.
The Kiwi lineout fell apart at crucial times, with one miss just five metres out from the Pumas try-in goal area almost on the halftime whistle the worst offence.
One Mo’unga kick for touch off a penalty went into the try-in goal area.
Argentina had a game plan and stuck to it no matter what, not being seduced into playing the game the way New Zealand wanted. By doing so, they forced the Kiwis to play to their tune and thus had control of most of the game.
In handing the All Blacks a defeat Argentina have made the tournament that much more interesting and ensured that nobody will take them for granted after this.
Australia versus Argentina, 21 November
New Zealand versus Argentina, 28 November
Australia versus Argentina, 5 December