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Argentina make history and Australia bounce back in Rugby Championship

Argentina make history and Australia bounce back in Rugby Championship

Argentina

It is everything to play for at the halfway stage of the Rugby Championship after Argentina made history in New Zealand and Australia maintained their hoodoo over South Africa.

Round 3 kicked off in Adelaide where the Wallabies were looking to make it three in a row against the Springboks since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

They did that in emphatic fashion, running out 25-17 victors, a scoreline that was only that close because of two late Kwagga Smith tries.

What followed in Christchurch was even more remarkable. The All Blacks had never lost at home to Argentina, and had never lost three in a row on home soil.

That all changed as the Pumas’ defence stymied New Zealand and the boot of Emiliano Boffelli did the rest in a 25-18 win.

That leaves Argentina top of the Rugby Championship through three rounds, ahead of Australia on points difference, while four points back are the All Blacks, with the Springboks a point behind them.

So what were the main takeaways from this round?

PUMAS DEFENCE AND BREAKDOWN WORK MAKES THEM A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK

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It is hard to know whether it was the shock success in 2020 or perhaps the fact that a mainstay of the Argentina pack in Pablo Matera now plays in New Zealand, but the fear factor appears to have gone when the Pumas go up against the All Blacks.

They could sense that there was an opportunity to make history in Christchurch, and even when they trailed by nine points in the first half, they never doubted themselves.

It helps having the accuracy of Emiliano Boffelli from the kicking tee, the Edinburgh man was flawless as he slotted seven from seven.

And in Juan Martin Gonzalez, Argentina have hit on another dynamic back-rower. While there was a little fortune in the ball bouncing his way from a restart early in the second half, the way he was able to shrug off tacklers and race away to score was not lucky at all.

Still, the match was won thanks to the Argentine defence. They made 195 tackles out of 203 attempted, and many of them were dominant hits, thumping New Zealand backwards and upsetting their attacking flow.

The other area where Argentina are lethal is at the breakdown, led by skipper Julian Montoya. At least six points came directly from breakdown penalties where New Zealand tried to run the ball out of their own half and were caught. With Boffelli’s powerful boot, any penalty in opposition territory will likely cost points and usually did.

In the history of the Rugby Championship, Argentina have only avoided bottom spot once. They still have two away games to go but on this form, they should believe that they can challenge for the title.

ELLIS PARK WIN DID NOT FIX ALL BLACK ISSUES

When the All Blacks recovered from a run of five defeats in six matches by winning in Johannesburg a fortnight ago, the hope must have been that they had turned the corner.

This home defeat to Argentina shows that they still have plenty of work to do if they are to re-establish themselves among the world’s best.

Joe Schmidt took over as the attack coach after that win over the Springboks, and that would appear to be the biggest priority area at the moment. While New Zealand did score two tries, including a brilliant Caleb Clarke score, they spent a lot of time in possession but unable to find a hole in the Argentina defence.

Much credit will rightly go to the Pumas, but it has become something of a recurring theme for New Zealand, who do not look as slick as we have become used to over the years.

Schmidt is renowned for his incredible attention to detail, and it was always going to take some time for his vision to be put into place, but there is no question that the attack is not clicking right now.

Add in a misfiring lineout, notably right at the end when New Zealand had a final opportunity to salvage a draw, and there are clear deficiencies in the All Black game.

Still, with three games to go, New Zealand are still right in the hunt for the title, but only if they can find the right formula soon.

WALLABY YOUNGSTERS SEIZE THEIR OPPORTUNITY

A lot has been made of Dave Rennie’s willingness to go back to familiar faces since he took over as Australia coach, with Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and now Bernard Foley having all come back into contention.

The win over South Africa was a reminder that the Wallabies have some talented young players coming through as well, especially in the fly-half role. Noah Lolesio was part of the Australia team that reached the World Under-20s final back in 2019, and has had some opportunities for the senior team, without getting a real run.

Noah Lolesio kicks 13/7/2021

But after playing another crucial role in a win over the Springboks, maybe it is time that he gets a real chance to show he can be the man through to the 2023 World Cup?

Fraser McReight, in the back row, has also had to be patient, and in his case, it was always going to be difficult to get past Michael Hooper in the pecking order. But with Hooper taking a break from the game, McReight shone and even chipped in with two tries.

Australia are not perfect yet, but they looked a completely different side to the one that succumbed in Argentina, and as well as the youngsters, had Marika Koroibete back to his best in a brilliant win.

SPRINGBOKS LACK CLINICAL EDGE

There is no question over the talent in South Africa right now, but it is not quite working for Jacques Nienaber’s team, who could not find a way through against Australia for 75 minutes in Adelaide.

In the first half, they enjoyed long periods of possession in the Australian 22, but were unable to score a try, after turning down multiple shots at goal.

Some of that came while Australia were down to 14 men, with Tom Wright in the bin, but still the gaps would not open up.

The basic game plan for South Africa is effective, their pack is still exceptional at the set-piece and they have lots of threats at the breakdown.

The questions surround the playmakers, particularly when Willie le Roux is not playing. Do they have the nous to break down the opposition.

Seeing the way Australia sliced through in the second half when Lolesio was put into a gap and then found McReight to score, only brought the Springboks issues into sharper focus.

It is not all doom and gloom, but that is now three successive losses to Australia in Australia, and if they are to challenge for the Rugby Championship title, they cannot afford another next week in Sydney.

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