All Blacks are wary of visiting Argentina's growl
Somewhere between Soweto and Mendoza, Argentina rediscovered its rugby identity, which should make for an interesting game at Waikato Stadium tonight.
The All Blacks have watched the video. They'll know what's coming, which, judging by events in Mendoza, will be a mix of fury and filth, of passion and punishment.
It will be Argentina going back to what it knows and does best - keeping it simple and playing it hard.
The New Zealanders may know what's coming but it's going to be intriguing to see how they deal with the fury and physicality that Argentina will surely bring.
Will they roll up their sleeves and make it a good old-fashioned arm-wrestle? Go mano-a-mano and make this into a contest about whose manhood is bigger?
That will be the temptation. No All Black backs down when challenged physically. No All Black gets sand kicked in his face.
But if they're smart - and everything suggests this team of Richie McCaw's is - they'll also understand that their best approach will be to take Argentina into areas they're not so comfortable in.
The Pumas will want to slow this game down, make it a grind, kick a lot, knock the All Blacks over behind the advantage line and go from set piece to set piece at their own deliberate pace.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, will want to unleash that beautiful game of theirs where pace and width are hallmarks, where skill and subtlety are just as important as smash and grab.
They'll want to take the visitors places they are a long way from comfortable.
The Springboks did it to the Pumas in Soweto during the opening round of the Rugby Championship and embarrassed the South Americans 73-13.
That clearly caused a rethink in the Argentinian camp.
Last year against the All Blacks in La Plata they got lured into a similar fast-paced game and were thumped 54-15.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
"It was a mental thing. We weren't prepared enough mentally," said Pumas wing Horacia Agulla of that Soweto shocker.
To their credit the Pumas adjusted in Mendoza, a match the Boks were extremely lucky to win 22-17.
Argentina smashed them at the breakdown, slowed things down and very nearly stole their first Rugby Championship victory.
It would be extraordinary to think they'll vary much from that blueprint tonight, even if they did overstep the mark in Mendoza, with loose forwards Leonardo Senatore (biting) and Pablo Matera (eye-gouging) cited, with the former banned for nine weeks.
Asked if aggression was needed to be competitive tonight, Agulla smiled and nodded.
"It's the only way we know how to play - with aggression and with heart, and now we're trying be smart as well. Hopefully with that combination we can, you never know, maybe win."
They will have to be extraordinarily good to defeat this All Blacks team who haven't lost a test at home since 2009, and have never been beaten by the Pumas in 16 previous official internationals.
They also look to be a side building beautifully, having swept the Australians aside with a modicum of ease.
The scrum is fast coming to grips with the new regulations, their defence remains first-rate and when they flip the switch and play at pace their attacking play can be breath-taking.
Tonight they have a debutant to ease through in the exciting Francis Saili at second five-eighth. He's a risk-reward type, not unlike the young Ma'a Nonu when he burst on to the scene, but he'll have 160-odd tests either side of him in the retuning Dan Carter and Conrad Smith to make his ride as smooth as possible.
It could also be interesting up front, where relative greenhorns in tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina (nine tests) and loose forward Steven Luatua (three) are sure to be challenged physically.
All Blacks skipper McCaw indicated at yesterday's captain's run he wasn't expecting things to get too unsavoury.
"Those sort of things could happen, but you don't want to get distracted," said McCaw. "If you start getting frustrated with what's happening, it's not going to do anyone any good.
"You don't take any backward steps but we're here to play rugby and if we do that properly and the opposition are worrying about those sort of things you're probably on the front foot and you hope the ref will look after anything."
McCaw was then asked if that meant they'd be turning the other cheek if the cheap shots came out. He bristled a little at that.
"The boys definitely don't step down; it's a physical game and you've got to bar up. But there's ways of imposing yourself physically, and there's no place in the game for stuff like that. As a whole, the times I've played Argentina it's been fine."
The Pumas would love a good old scrap. But these All Blacks are too smart to be lured into that.
All Blacks v Argentina The record (since 1985): Played 16, All Blacks won 15, 1 draw Did you know: Francis Saili becomes the 17th new All Black introduced to rugby in the past two seasons The form: New Zealand, beat Australia (Sydney) 47-29, beat Australia (Wellington) 27-16; Argentina, lost to South Africa (Soweto) 13-73, lost to South Africa (Mendoza) 17-22
- © Fairfax NZ News
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