|CRÉDITO: RODRIGO VERGARA-UAR|
Argentina's eagerly awaited victory over New Zealand will have to wait another year as, despite playing with a strong intent to score, the South Americans were defeated 34-13 at home by the world's leading rugby team. The All Blacks scored four tries to one to claim the Rugby Championship trophy for another year and did so with a match in hand. Although the better team won the match Argentina can lay claim to having been let down by the officiating of South African Craig Joubert as two All Black tries were, in fact, not legal. The talking point, however, ought to be on the manner in which the game was played, those in attendance and the showcase that the match was for Argentina to host Rugby World Cup 2023.
Twelve months ago the identical fixture saw an, arguably inferior, All Blacks team win by a similar scoreline in a vastly different match. The 33-15 win in 2013 saw Argentina looking to shut down the All Blacks at all costs. Argentina was not looking to play rugby within its own half as it was, rather, trying to prevent a repeat of the 2012 performance which saw New Zealand win in a way yet to repeat it self since that time.
The difference between the playing styles of the former and current Pumas coaches, Santiago Phelan and Daniel Hourcade, could not be any clearer. Phelan had Los Pumas playing conservative rugby while Hourcade was entirely the opposite with Argentina looking to attack throughout, for the full 80 minutes. Never was there a call for damage control.
Such a policy will bring in benefits against different opposition as this New Zealand team is, beyond question, better than any other team in the world right now. Argentina is therefore on course for some probable wins in the immediate future with the November tests against France, Italy and Scotland looking significantly different to those of November 2013.
Before then, however, Argentina will be hosting the Wallabies in Mendoza in seven days time. The test in Argentina's fourth largest city will be an opportunity to further showcase how far Argentina has come under Hourcade and also to underline what the country has to offer as a host nation for Rugby World Cup 2023.
Australia is coming off a poor second half performance in Cape Town which saw South Africa winning 28-10 after the visiting side had been 10-5 ahead at the interval. Similar to the 33-31 win in Salta, South Africa, completed a come back to win the match. It confirmed the Springboks as the number two team in the world and Australia as number three. Argentina, though, is ranked at a lowly number twelve due to the IRB World Rankings not taking into account Argentina's depleted teams for June internationals.
The attacking intent displayed this evening in La Plata and in previous matches on dry pitches in Salta and the Gold Coast highlight a team creating chances. Small errors prevented Argentina from scoring more tries with, for instance, Juan Imhoff breaking through and linking with Juan Martín Hernández who could not find Joaquín Tuculet which let the All Blacks off the hook.
New Zealand, in contrast, was able to complete half opportunities and made Argentina pay. The visitors impressed in scoring some impressive tries but also crossed for two which should not have been awarded. Long will rugby remember Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea provided a memory as he got passed three would-be Pumas tacklers to score New Zealand's third try. Referee Craig Joubert made a crucial error though in missing a forward pass from Aaron Smith.
A refereeing error cost Leonardo Senatore a try against New Zealand in Napier and with it members of the Argentine media questioned the trend of referees to award 50-50 calls against Argentina. Savea's try furthered this reasoning as did New Zealand's fourth try scored by TJ Perenara who received a 50-50 pass from Savea which the refereee ruled in favor of New Zealand.
Joubert also made a decisive call against Argentina in the first half as Tomás Cubelli had been taken out by Israel Dagg without the ball as he was metres short of the try line. On other days penalty tries have been the norm but today not only was New Zealand saved but Dagg was fortunate to not be yellow carded. With, or without, the tight calls going against Argentina the All Blacks were the better team and only conceded a try late in the game with replacement Horacio Agulla scoring his first test try in five years.
Captain Agustín Creevy had been frustrated by Joubert's calls at the breakdown and in the scrums but upon being substituted he shook Joubert's hand and also the hand of his opposite, Keven Mealamu. The action was a case in point of the spirit of rugby, a factor which should see Argentina allocated Rugby World Cup 2023 ahead of a previous host in the U.K, Ireland, South Africa or Australia.
Event organizers in La Plata had the Rugby Championship trophy on hand to give to New Zealand captain Richie McCaw who lifted it as the stadium lit up with confetti. The gesture from the UAR showcased what Argentina has to offer.
Video Credit: ESPN Scrum Argentina