As the final whistle went in western Sydney last Saturday evening there was no shortage of joyous tears. In the coaching box, out on the field, in the stands.
On The Roar’s live scores blog too. Although, from our point view, that was mainly because the scores wouldn’t update. You lot in the comments, though, a blubbering mess of actual Argentineans, Los Pumas fans for the day, and All Blacks fans trying to deal with the fallout.
It will remain one of the great rugby memories of the year and quite likely the rugby memory of 2020.
Think about it. What could possibly top it?
We put that very question to the panel.
A simple one: what can possibly top Argentina beating New Zealand on Saturday night as the highlight of the 2020 Tri Nations?
Zero. Zilch. Cero.
Unless they go on to win the entire tournament. That’s the only thing that could top Saturday’s win.
The underbaked Pumas’ win over the burnt and baked All Blacks ranks in the top echelon of upsets in our sport. It may be the biggest shock ever, due to lack of Test preparation and COVID-19 context.
So, to top that, we would need to see an 80-metre matchwinning drop goal by Ned Hanigan with his left foot.
A couple of weeks ago we wondered what should happen for the Tri Nations to be entertaining, and the most consistent response was for Los Pumas to be competitive.
The Pumas were not only competitive, but they also surprised the All Blacks against all odds. The Pumas also play to climb in the IRB rankings, since the objective is France 2023, and they must be among the first eight to minimise the risk of falling into the so-called ‘pool of death’, as happened in Japan, where they had to face France and England in the same group.
Strangely, the ranking that is taken into account is the one at the end of November of this year, and Los Pumas, with the victory over New Zealand, climbed from tenth to eighth – but they must be careful to avoid ninth.
Remember that the pools are made up of four groups where the first four of the ranking will lead the zones and from five to eight will second them, then the following positions are drawn.
But going back to the initial question, I think that for the tournament the most interesting thing would be that both the Pumas and the Wallabies reach the last game with the same chances of obtaining the championship. That would ensure that the best players will always be on the turf and in theory it would give us a better show.
Maybe only South Africa arriving tomorrow, after a 500-hour, full-contact plane flight, insisting that they play the All Blacks on Saturday in the early match.
If that doesn’t happen, and you’d have to say it’s doubtful at this stage, then it’s hard to see what tops last Saturday’s upset win.
It can’t be beaten, it just can’t.
Even if Argentina beat New Zealand again in the return fixture in a fortnight’s time, that can only at best add to the memory, not top it.
It’s going to remain one of the great rugby upsets simply because of the backstory. Los Pumas had no right to turn in that performance, and even if told them ahead of time what was about to unfold, I’m not sure how many would believe you anyway.
In fact I think it sits up there with Japan’s miracle of Brighton on the all-time list.
I don’t think it’s possible to understate how good a win that was on Saturday, simply because it was a win built from grit, determination and fierce focus on the day. It’s entirely possible – likely even – that for the 23 players on the day and maybe for Mario Ledesma too their career highlight is now behind them.
It’s hard to see anything topping that considering their preparation and their first-ever win over the All Blacks. It simply won’t be forgotten.
But there is a way to make it more meaningful perhaps, and that is to go on and win the whole damn thing, backing up their performance with a win over the Wallabies and, dare I say it, a second against the All Blacks.
Saturday night in Newcastle now looms as a match-up for the ages. What is the one area the Wallabies cannot afford to get wrong against Los Pumas?
There’s no shortage of areas where Los Pumas were incredibly impressive – the lineout, scrum, game management and breakdown were all excellent – and hence plenty where the Wallabies can’t afford to drop off.
Forced to pick one, I’ll go with physicality. Argentina were tremendous in contact with and without the ball on Saturday, and that area of the game has been something of a barometer for Australia – they were strong in Wellington and Brisbane, less so in Auckland and Sydney. I think whichever team gets on top physically will go a long way towards winning this game.
The key to Wallabies beating the Pumas is their kicking game. They need to kick from hand often and well.
Find grass or contest well and always with a point, not just because you’re out of ideas.
Exits need to be big and sure.
The Wallabies will have to carry the score ahead all game to force Los Pumas to take risks and make mistakes.
Against the All Blacks, the Pumas were always ahead on the scoreboard and feel very comfortable playing without the ball.
Clear thinking and discipline will be key for Australia.
Call it quaint and old-fashioned, but one thing Argentina does is kick their penalty goals and keep the scoreboard ticking over. This can feed into a ‘catch-up’ mentality which in turn brings about errors and poor decision-making.
In addition to their superb handling and tackling, the Pumas also mastered the All Blacks at the mental game. This hasn’t been a strength of the Wallabies, but it quickly needs to become one.
No cheap, easy penalties.
The biggest thing the Wallabies should have noticed about the Pumas last weekend was how well they cleaned out when in possession.
This plays out on the stats sheet too, with Ardie Savea the only All Blacks player to win a ruck turnover. Four different Argentinean players won turnovers, led by inspirational captain Pablo Matera’s three – and his turnover in the closing minutes was arguably the moment of the match.
Accuracy at the breakdown has long been an issue for the Wallabies, and it’s something that Dave Rennie and his team are yet to rectify. But they only need to watch the Pumas highlights and they’ll see how often the clean-out was spot on and how their ball carriers always made sure they went to ground with support not far away.
If the Wallabies get that wrong and start giving up easy ruck penalties, it won’t take much for Nico Sanchez to build up a lead again.
The breakdown, pure and simple to me.
If they don’t match the Pumas for the intensity in contact displayed last weekend, the Pumas will be the good type of 2-0.