28 Sep 2012

Can Argentina overturn the All Blacks in La Plata?

Most respected pundits suggest that Argentina's best chance of securing a first Rugby Championship victory will arrive in the final round of this year's tournament, when the Pumas host Australia in Rosario.

So what are the chances then, of Santiago Phelan's men upsetting the odds and turning over the current World Champions, New Zealand, in La Plata one week earlier?

Today Dumptackle Rugby Blog takes a look at the key areas which will define the historic contest at the beautiful Estadio Ciudad de La Plata this weekend, nicknamed the 'City of Diagonals' and how Argentina will look to conduce an error prone performance from the All Blacks.

Can Argentina overturn the All Blacks in La Plata?

Make no bones about. Argentina may remain humble (almost submissive maybe to their rivals in the press), but they are a confident side who aren't far away from creating a real shock.

Whereas most of the talk throughout this year's tournament has been of consistent improvement, whilst reviewing the Pumas' efforts, the reality is that the South Americans have shown that they can more than match it, both physically and tactically with the original Tri-Nations teams.

Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe along with Richie McCaw and Israel Dagg, has been a tower of strength and arguably the star player of the inaugural Rugby Championship. His leadership ability has seen Argentina come perilously close to recording a maiden victory already.

Lobbe has been outstanding for the Pumas in 2012.

Had it not been for better goal kicking, they could have had W's next to their name against SA and Australia, rather than an agonising draw in Mendoza and an even more depressing loss in Perth, after Robbie Deans' men clawed their way back from the depths of despair to overhaul them late one.

The Pumas should have won both games, with the positions they found themselves in.What the Pumas would do to have a precise goal kicker in their ranks, such as Hugo Porta, Felipe Contepomi or even Gonzalo Quesada one might ask....

Despite their current lack of proficiency in that department though, Argentina are perhaps one of the best equipped sides in world rugby to slow the All Blacks attack down and therefore create some confusion.

Current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen remarked in the week that not only did they have an excellent defensive system (perhaps improved with the influence of Graham Henry this year), but that they were perhaps a little 'too proficient' in slowing down his team’s ball.

Hansen may have been trying to pressurise this week's officials; Jaco Peyper, Craig Joubert and Pascal Gauzere, by highlighting that concern, but what it showed was that in an area which New Zealand have reigned supreme for so long, Argentina are building themselves their own reputation for excellence.

Enough at least to give rival coaches some headaches in this year's Championship. So what are they doing right in the tackle/breakdown?

Steve Hansen has voiced his concerns over Argentina's tactics publicly over the week.

Argentina have a tactic where they try to pressurise intensely closer to the ruck and tend to leave more space out wide. It's quite risky but can work wonders at times, especially when faced with a side which is lacking confidence or clarity in attack.

One man goes low and chops down the opposition man early, while another comes in high to protect from any potential offload. They effectively stop the momentum at source.

SA in particular really struggled to get any momentum with their ball carrying, which they are usually quite dominant with. Eben Etzebeth was the only real stand-out who managed to make inroads, but not everyone has the same freakish, physical ability has him!

In the next phase; the breakdown, the Pumas are pretty close to being on a par with New Zealand in my opinion, in recognising that no breakdown is the same. 

The veterans such as Rodrigo Roncero, Patricio Albacete and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe target turnovers on the merit of the situation. It isn't just madness. They are quite logical, intelligent and selective in that area, and youngsters such as Figallo and Cabello are taking after their elders. If they don't think a turnover or significant slowing of the ball is on, they fan out in defence and increase numbers out wide. 

That ability to change up in defence has left opposition attacks in all sorts of confusion this year, in the same way that a rush defence can and is one of the main factors why so many sides have struggled to score tries against them. 

On the other side of the coin, Argentina's attack is still clearly a work in progress, even if some in their ranks (Camacho, Landajo, Hernandez) have shone intermittently throughout the tournament. That will take time to improve though, as one feels that it is perhaps a problem with personnel rather than coaching.

 If they can be powerful where their traditional strengths lie though, they have a real chance of unsettling New Zealand. I'm not predicting an Argentina victory, but let's not forget that Argentina are an altogether different animal at home. This weekend's match is no foregone conclusion, even if Dan Carter is back in black for the visitors.


  1. Everyone seems to agree that this is going to be a tough, physical battle. I hope the All Blacks aren't too smashed up for their next game in South Africa.
    Dan Carter's introduction to the team can't be underestimated. If he and McCaw both take the field the All Blacks will be fine... hopefully!
    I'm picking a tough battle where the All Blacks get scared a few times, but win by 8 or less at the end.
    Who knows, maybe we'll see this long promised game where everything clicks for them.

    1. Difficult to tell really.

      The AB's haven't really clicked into gear since Ireland. If they do, one suspects they will be comfortable.

      If not, I imagine the difference will be 10 points or less.

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