The brick wall tactics that Argentina used to unsettle the All Blacks: 5 things we learnt from epic Tri Nations win

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

In the minutes before kick-off, All Blacks great turned pundit Andrew Mehrtens said the Pumas would pose the All Blacks more of a challenge than the Wallabies.

“I’d be more worried about Argentina,” Mehrtens said on Sky Sports. “I’m sure the All Blacks staff have been.

“They are a very physical team, more physical than the Wallabies I think. The Wallabies showed the blueprint last week in Brisbane where they were very aggressive and it paid off, and I think Argentina will fancy themselves to be able to shut down the All Blacks’ game probably better than Australia can.”

WATCH THE WALLABIES TAKE ON THE PUMAS IN NEWCASTLE, NOV 21. TICKETS HERE

The Wallabies might have won Bledisloe IV, but they had already lost the Cup. On that basis, his comment stood.

Nor was Mehrtens wrong.

The Pumas’ physicality proved to be a point of difference, but what was equally impressive was their defensive line.

They were helped by two things.

Firstly, their tackle efficiency was excellent. The Pumas hit and stuck, and openside flanker Marcos Kremer was the key to that making an incredible 30 tackles.

Secondly, despite turning the ball over at the ruck on a number of occasions the Pumas – unlike the Wallabies – seldom put men into the breakdown. Often they would make the tackle and rather than throw numbers into the ruck in an attempt to slow it down, they would simply shift across the field to close any holes.

While hooker Julian Montoya continued the fine tradition of Argentinian hookers getting on the ball by clamping down on Beauden Barrett in the 15th minute, it was only captain and blindside flanker Pablo Matera who put pressure on the ball.

Matera was hugely effective at the breakdown, twice stealing it and winning a penalty on a third occasion. He also gave away a penalty in the 70th minute for “elbows first”.

What the Pumas achieved by not putting pressure on the ruck was that it allowed their defensive line to be a “wall” because there was no space on the fringes.

It’s also why the All Blacks’ playmakers didn’t kick across field because there was simply no space there unlike two weeks earlier when Richie Mo’unga regularly found space out wide.

 

THE VALUE OF THREE STRIKES AGAIN

Pressure. That’s what three points delivers time and time again.

We saw it a week earlier when Reece Hodge saw the Wallabies to victory, and we saw it again on Saturday.

The Pumas scored just the one try, but their crafty No.10 Nico Sanchez guided the South Americans to their maiden victory over the All Blacks with six penalties.

It’s a model that works well against the All Blacks. Put them under pressure, apply scoreboard pressure and cracks appear.

The All Blacks turned down multiple shots at goal.

They expected space to open, it never came.

OPEN BORDERS POLICY HELPS

Until recently, Argentinian rugby chose not to pick talent if they weren’t playing for the Jaguares in Super Rugby.

That policy was ripped up last year and we saw the benefit of that on Saturday.

Players like Santiago Cordero and Juan Imhoff – some of the best backs in the world – weren’t eligible for a long period of time.

Imhoff played his first Test since the semi-final loss to the Wallabies in 2015. He was in tears at full-time.

The Wallabies tweaked their laws in 2020 to adjust for the COVID-19 times to allow Dave Rennie to ask the Rugby Australia board to ask for the option of picking two overseas based players. In the end, he didn’t enact that option.

AFTERNOON FOOTY A WINNER

Throughout the winter months rugby fans marveled at the skills on display in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

How could anyone match what the Kiwis were dishing up?

It was high paced, end to end, side to side and the rest of the world, including New Zealand, thought they were untouchable.

But what was an obvious factor in helping that was that the games were played in the afternoon when the ball is easier to hold on to.

On Saturday, the skills from Argentina were brilliant. They hardly turned over possession, and the match at a family-friendly time.

COMPOSURE THE MISSING ELEMENT

Dropped balls, missed calls and lineouts stolen.

Usually those comments are reserved for, well, everyone else. But on this occasion it was the All Blacks that got All Blacked.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster is the man under the gun, having won just two of his opening five Tests in charge of the strongest rugby brand in the world, but the cracks are finally starting to appear.

The skill remains there. No nation in the world comes close to touching them on that.

But what we’re starting to see is the effect of losing so many greats in world rugby.

What the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Kieran Read and Ben Smith had was composure.

They always found ways to win.

This is what Sam Cane, who remains one of the outstanding back-rowers in the world, had to say: "If you look through the team I think there's plenty of experience, but no doubt there was times in that game where individuals and as a team we didn't have as much composure as we would have liked to had.

"That's a clear area of focus for us going forward. But I think we've definitely got the right men in there for the job."

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