Pumas must play percentages

The Pumas need to produce a more pragmatic approach if they are to remain competitive against the All Blacks for the full 80 minutes in Buenos Aires, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Argentina have looked to embrace a positive brand of rugby this Rugby Championship season. They’ve scored a few scintillating tries and had some magic moments on attack, but the Pumas ultimately only have one win to show for their efforts.

As illustrated by SARubymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, Argentina are in fact ranked first for carries (528), and second for clean breaks (44), metres made (1,938) and defenders beaten (83).

However, Argentina have been guilty of playing too much rugby with ball in hand, with this lack of balance (they’ve only kicked 72 times out of hand in total – the least of any team), often proving to be costly.

This was most evident when Argentina last took on the All Blacks in Hamilton, with the Pumas playing with pace, and effectively looking to beat the Kiwis at their own game.

It initially reaped rewards, and in the opening quarter the Pumas made 144m to 67m, 39 carries to 14, beat five defenders to three and enjoyed 67% of possession, while they trailed by just five points at the break.

Yet, there was a sense of inevitability when the All Blacks kicked up a gear as they so often do in the final half an hour of play, ultimately scoring 33 unanswered points to punish the tiring Pumas.

Despite this outcome, Argentina didn’t appear to learn their lesson when they next took on the Wallabies in Perth. Again, the Pumas looked to enforce a possession-based game, with the Aussies forced to make 143 tackles to 54 in the first half, while they enjoyed just 33% of possession and 32% of territory.

However, the Wallabies defended steadfastly and then feasted on errors, scoring five tries to one in the opening half to open up an essentially unassailable 21-6 lead.

The Pumas have now had some time for introspection after those back-to-back defeats, and it will be interesting to see if coach Daniel Hourcade takes cognisance of the fact that his side failed to play high-percentage Test rugby.

There should be a realisation from Argentina that they have an opportunity to not only compete with the All Blacks this weekend, but to potentially remain in the hunt for a historic first-ever victory over New Zealand.

The Pumas have evolved into a vastly improved team in the Rugby Championship, and are especially difficult opponents to take on in hostile Buenos Aires.

Beyond that, the All Blacks’ challenging travel schedule (that will see them head from New Zealand to Argentina and then to South Africa), and the fact that they have already secured the Championship title, has precipitated a number of changes to their team.

In total, there are nine changes to the match 23 that recently defeated the Springboks in Christchurch, with the likes of Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa rested for this encounter.

Such is the depth in New Zealand rugby that there is no doubt that the All Blacks will still come into this clash as overwhelming favourites, but if the Pumas embrace a smarter brand of rugby, it may not be as one-sided as many may expect.

Overall: Argentina 0, All Blacks 26, Draw 1
In Buenos Aires: Argentina 0, All Blacks 10, Draw 1

– New Zealand have won their last 21 games against the Pumas, their only blemish in 27 previous encounters a 21-21 draw in November 1985.
– Each of the Pumas’ last six games on home soil have been won by the team leading at half-time, three of which have gone in favour of Argentina.
– The All Blacks have now won the Rugby Championship/Tri Nations 14 times in the 21 editions since the tournament began in 1996; it is their fourth title in the last five years.
– New Zealand have scored a joint-record 24 tries in this tournament (also 24 in 2013), one more and they will hold the stand-alone record for most tries in a Rugby Championship/Tri Nations campaign.
– The All Blacks have won their last 15 Test matches, one more win would equal their third-longest winning run, with the longest-ever winning run by a tier-one team standing at 17 games (NZ 1965-69 & 2013-14, SA 1997-98).
– New Zealand have the best tackle success (90%), lineout success (93%) and scrum success rate (90%) in this year’s edition of the competition.
– Nicolás Sanchéz has scored 48 points so far this tournament; the most of any player who is yet to cross for a try and second most overall.
– Top point-scorer Beauden Barrett (54) has also provided more try-assists (4) than any other player in this edition of the tournament.
– Just two players have made over 250 metres with the ball in hand in the Rugby Championship this year, Ben Smith (257) and Facundo Isa (251).
– Agustín Creevy has won more turnovers (7) than any other player in this tournament; in fact, since the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup only David Pocock (26) has won more than the Argentina captain in international rugby (20, the same as Francois Louw).
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Argentina Nicolás Sanchéz (48) Santiago Cordero (3) Facundo Isa (251) Matías Alemanno (31)
All Blacks  Beauden Barrett (54) Julian Savea (4) Ben Smith (243) Sam Whitelock (39)

Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 23 Matías Orlando.

All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Damian McKenzie.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greef (South Africa)

Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis