A hard lesson for Los Pumas
October 3, 2012
Argentina got taught a lesson against the All Blacks © Getty Images
The dream, the hope and the hunger for victory the Pumas had, simply collided with a black tide called New Zealand. After four incredible games in the Rugby Championship, the Argentine team felt they could earn that first historic win against the All Blacks. However, the latest World Cup holders highlighted the differences between the two with a resounding 54-15 defeat and not only did they take the five points from La Plata, but they also grabbed the title in the inaugural southern hemisphere tournament.
The tickets for this challenge had been sold out more than two months ago. It was named "The game of the year". And everyone, even the players, thought the dream was possible. They even spoke openly about it, which is rare for a team that has always been cautious when giving statements. The atmosphere was encouraging. "I have no doubt that we all want a win and not an honorable loss," said Rodrigo Roncero.
The level they showed with South Africa in Mendoza, when they tied the match 16-16, got everyone excited. The tour around New Zealand and Australia raised everyone´s hopes too, with very close defeats. But in this case, their opponents were the All Blacks, who were desperate for a win to become the champions of the Rugby Championship. The previous euphoria, accompanied by the people who were close to the team during practice and also in the social networks, made them forget that their rival was the best team in the world.
The stadium in La Plata started filling from early on. There wasn´t a single empty place, and from the moment the national anthems and the traditional haka took place, the crowd got heated. They wanted to intimidate their rivals, who knew very well what they were about to face. "We will hear a lot of noise, something we don't experience often," they said before the game. No sooner said than done. The Argentine people stood as one and showed all their passion during the opening minutes.
The start was encouraging because, by the eighth minute, Los Pumas were up with a try from Martin Landajo. The dream was becoming a reality. But after that conquest, New Zealand took control. For each insignificant mistake the Argentine team made, the team in black started adding the points. A mistake at the base of a ruck, a runaway effort from Ma'a Nonu and a try from Aaron Smith. Then, it was a poor error in defence and Cory Jane scored the first try of his hat-trick. Finally, the coup de grace was a ball stolen from Gonzalo Camacho and a try from the promising wing, Julian Savea.
The first-half ended with 32-8 in favour of the All Blacks. All that previous fervor became pure pain. All that optimism turned into sadness. It was unthinkable to be able to turn around that outcome. The fear of a historic rout, one they had not suffered since 2008 against South Africa in Johannesburg when they lost by 63-9, re-emerged.
However, the Los Pumas' heart was not going to give in. During the second-half, they tried to cut the deficit. Camacho added a try, and again, New Zealand responded with Jane. The Argentine players attacked and clashed again and again with an impenetrable defensive barrier. By contrast, the All Blacks were sharp and exploited each millimetric space to perfection.
"They gave us a lesson of rugby" summarized Patricio Albacete after the game. And so it was. Although there were interesting moves, such as Landajo's try after a spectacular run from Lucas González Amorosino, the team lost its essence: the defensive organisation.
The fans and players left the premises with a bitter taste. "New Zealand were superior to Argentina. We can play better. The truth is that we have faced the best team in the world and they don´t make mistakes, they don´t forgive anything," said Phelan. "It is difficult to digest the defeat. In seven days we will complete two months of effort, and we want to do it the best way possible," added captain Juan Fernandez Lobbe.
This is a Rugby Championship full of lessons and Los Pumas had to learn one more. It was backwards step, no doubt about it. But it is true that the bar was set high. Nowadays, the All Blacks are one step higher, that's for sure, but the Argentine players have to concentrate on their own team and not the rest. The focus on attack is necessary to become among the best in the world, but if they lose the essence that took them that far, it´s going to be difficult for them to succeed. Their defensive structure and their tackles that have placed Argentina among the best in the world cannot be forgotten.
Luckily, Los Pumas have a rematch with a decimated Australian team in Rosario, and their goal will be to leave behind this disappointment and get back on track. It wasn´t the best night and it has to serve as a lesson. Today, the All Blacks are still far away from the rest of the pack.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.