It may seem like a boring game on paper given all the points came from penalties, but there was a lot more to the game than just the points struck by the metronomic boots of Nicolas Sanchez and Reece Hodge.
Australia led 9-6 at the break and scored another penalty after halftime to make it 12-6 before Sanchez struck to make it 12-9, narrowing the gap. Sanchez missed one penalty and Hodge’s conversion made it 15-9.
But Sanchez struck two more penalties to equalise the game. Hodge then missed one shot at the posts, blew awry by the wind. With the clock ticking over full-time, we saw a great kick to chase by Pablo Matera coming inches away from creating a matchwinning try, but the Wallabies slid it into touch.
Argentina had only 40 per cent possession for the whole game. Under such conditions, one could expect the Wallabies to win. Argentina carried only 137 metres, while the Wallabies carried 236 metres. Argentina passed only 80 times, while the Wallabies passed 157 times. Both sides had an equal offload count.
How they played is very similar to last week, but they got carried away with slowing the ball down and the forwards lost their cool at points. They were killing the momentum, flooding their defence into gaps. However, the Wallabies knew this was coming, getting the rucks fast, and they had Nic White to play it at breakneck speed. Australia also had a No. 10 who could crash it up easily to generate momentum.
Argentina played a little marginally at points. Their desperation to slow the ball down culminated in Julian Montoya being yellow-carded for not releasing the tackled player and recalcitrant fouls.
Attack was a complex issue. While they were certainly decent, they did not make the big plays they did against the All Blacks. This is not about possession, territory or running progress.
Making an attacking play is like building a house. You need the framework of a house – the poles, the girders, the metal skeleton. Then you need the filling – the cement and bricks – to build the house.
Against the All Blacks we saw Tomas Cubelli providing good, solid framework and playmaker Sanchez filling the cement brilliantly.
However, against AUstralia Cubelli was out with his leg wrapped up. That was one of their two generals sidelined. Now Sanchez had to create the framework and fill some cement, but he did not have the impact that he had the previous game, supplying less mortar for construction.
Here’s an example: Sanchez takes the pass off the No. 9 from the ruck, selecting his outside centre just through a tunnel pass behind a dummy runner. He has to provide the framework, as the construction is his to execute, while the No. 9 is a centre of distribution.
He had to do the distribution, making the framework. When your No. 9 plays a fast ball, scrambling the defence, you get a good ball to attack the line. He was also the main distributor for the play. If he is to make the skeleton, you ultimately lose 10 per cent out of your attack when you get the ball out.
Thus most of Sanchez’s touches were tactical kicks, and they were far, high and bouncing. He was excellent off the boot, but in this case he did not create major opportunities. Why? He did not have the framework that Cubelli gave him against the All Blacks. Tactical kicking is like buying a house and selling it, getting the most money (territory) out of it.
However, this is not to say that his playmaking was quiet. Here is one great example: Nicolas Sanchez takes the ball off the No. 9 and selected a forward runner between two defenders, setting his man into the gap.
Their set piece was not as dominant as last week, and perhaps it was that the Wallabies pack had finally found form and became more resistant. Both sides traded scrummage penalties.
In the lineout, the Argentineans were extremely disruptive. While their forward pack may not be the best in the world considering the likes of the English pack and the Springboks pack, they are certainly up there and they are well the best lineout disrupters in the world. They have two ways of approaching an opposition lineout: either they contest the lineout, try to hit the jumper’s hand and the ball bounces down, or they do not jump and instantly form a maul of defenders around the jumper the moment he hits the ground. The ball is often being stalled and the maul goes to ground legally.
They were strong in their strengths, in their set-piece prowess. However, Tomas Cubelli’s absence was severely felt. While Gonzalo Bertranou was not exactly poor, he does not have the Test-level framework, and the game management was all on Sanchez’s plate. The only major opportunities Sanchez created were off tactical kicks, and it was not Sanchez’s fault. It was that Cubelli was not there, hence his cementing was less.
Sanchez is one of the best playmakers on the planet, and you need a framework to allow him to cement. This shows the impact of Cubelli’s absence.
They will give the All Blacks a tough shove next week, but in Cubelli’s absence it is hard to see them repeating their upset.