All Blacks offer tough lesson for Argentina
The Pumas have learned quickly so far but still tend to run out of steam late in games
Argentina must ditch their habit of fading in the final stages of Rugby Championship Tests if they are to prevent New Zealand clinching the title today.
The All Blacks defeated the Pumas 21-5 in wet Wellington this month and another win at the 35,000-seat Estadio Ciudad de La Plata will give them an unassailable lead in the new-look southern hemisphere event.
New Zealand have 16 points from four consecutive victories, Australia eight, South Africa seven and Argentina three in a tournament many pundits believe is harder to win than the four-yearly Rugby World Cup.
Argentina were added to the former Tri-Nations this year and fears that the South Americans would be out of their depth against world champions New Zealand, second-ranked Australia and third-ranked South Africa have proved unfounded.
After being outplayed by South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town, the Pumas have fulfilled the promises of coach Santiago Phelan and captain and No8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe that they would learn quickly.
They led the Springboks 16-6 in the return match in the western city of Mendoza before a Marcelo Bosch clearance was charged down by Francois Steyn and the centre went over for a try which helped the visitors sneak an undeserved draw.
Argentina led New Zealand in Wellington through a try from veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero and were only four points behind entering the closing stages before two tries gave the world champions a flattering victory margin.
It seemed like the Pumas had turned the corner when they built a 19-6 advantage over Australia in the Gold Coast only to fade once again, concede two tries and finish four-point losers.
“It is a reality that in the last three games we were not efficient in the closing minutes and we need to maintain our standards, intensity and precision for the whole match,” Phelan admitted.
“I talked to the players and one of our goals in La Plata will be to pick up the tempo towards the end and play above our usual level. The closing stages are often critical and we need to be better.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen countered: “Argentina are giving themselves plenty of opportunities to win games, but in the last 20 minutes there is a lack of concentration and a lead or a scoring opportunity goes missing.
“The Pumas are going to improve in that area because of the quality of the opposition they are getting in this championship and will become very hard to beat.”
New Zealand have made two changes from the team who started in a 21-11 win over South Africa in mid-September with fit-again flyhalf star Dan Carter and scrum-half Aaron Smith replacing Aaron Cruden and Piri Weepu in the line-up.
Argentina have kept faith in the side who scared the Wallabies and bring in prop Marcos Ayerza and loose forward Tomas Vallejos on the bench with Juan Pablo Orlandi and Leonardo Senatore dropping out.
The All Blacks have won five Tests and drawn one in Buenos Aires since first visiting Argentina in 1985 with a 36-6 triumph 21 years ago the only one-sided encounter.