Amazing, sensational, outstanding: just a few of the words that could be used to describe last weekend’s Rugby Championship fixture between Argentina and New Zealand. Argentina finally managed to overcome the All Blacks and grab their first ever victory after thirty-three attempts at the Bank West Stadium in Sydney, winning 25–15. Not only did they win but they did it convincingly, dominating the All Blacks, which everybody knows is no mean feat.
It was the first time that Los Pumas had ever managed to overcome them, their closest attempt coming all the way back in 1985 with a 21-21 draw, but Argentina looked like a team that could and should beat the New Zealand. The game plan? Simple. Keep the scoreboard ticking over and frustrate New Zealand.
The plan was put into action as Man of the Match Nicolas Sanchez attempted a drop goal in only the fourth minute. This one was blocked, but a penalty a minute later conceded by the All Blacks led to the desired result for the Pumas. This 15 bomb by Sanchez put him in good state for the kind of game he was about to have, as he scored all of Argentina’s 25 points in a performance to genuinely rival any of world rugby’s best. Quick on his feet and imaginative, but most of all efficient, were qualities that could be easily seen by his performance, and indeed the whole Pumas performance was that off efficiency; a team playing like they are better than the All Blacks and, well, the proof was in the pudding.
As incredible as Nicolas Sanchez was this was far from a one-man job. The whole team played with an enthusiasm, energy and determination that made them an almost sure bet to win. Imperiousness and ruthlessness in defence was met by controlled brilliance in attack that lead to an incredibly disciplined yet spectacular game by the Pumas, the kind of performance that is needed at this level, and one that the All Blacks just could not match.
As amazing as the performance was, the context makes it even more incredible. Head coach Mario Ledesma was quick to, and very right to, point out just what this Argentina team has been through recently. They hadn’t played a game since the World Cup last year – a thirteen-month break – whereas the All Blacks had just come off of three games against the Wallabies. That cannot be overstated enough: this was Argentina’s first game in over a year and, astonishingly, they dismantled the All Blacks. Not only was it there first game in over a year, many players had personal hardships from loss of loved ones to having to isolate from their families for up to four months. This performance form Argentina is not only testament to their team but a testament to the resilience of Argentina as a whole. The only solution to the hardship was to come back stronger, and they did.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the very underwhelming performance by the mighty All Blacks. Ill-disciplined, lacking energy and bewildered would be some ways to describe their performance, especially when compared with the Pumas. Ian Foster’s side has now lost two on the bounce, the first time New Zealand have done so since 2011. They were plagued by ill-disciplined, giving away thirteen penalties and a large amount in dangerous places, which allowed Argentina to take control of the scoreboard. This was compounded by a refusal to take the points and instead to kick to the corner and try to go for a try, a tactic that only worked once. This New Zealand team is by no means a bad one, they have great players and if they can establish a double axis style partnership between Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett then they will be fine, but for now they are very much in a rough patch.
But let us not dwell on the disappointment of New Zealand, because this match and this day was well and truly Argentina’s. No matter how much New Zealand played into Los Pumas’ hands, it played into a hand that Argentina had created; a tactical plan that they devised and executed perfectly. They executed with a passion and pride of a entire nation behind them, with displays of passion and pride so seismic that you could probably feel Los Pumas’ roars from across the South Pacific Ocean.