Preview: Argentina v New Zealand
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FIVE: Argentina backline star Emiliano Boffelli wishes New Zealand had won their last match, instead of suffering a stunning home defeat to South Africa.
His believes the All Blacks will now be even more desperate for a fifth-round victory in Buenos Aires Saturday against South American opponents they have never lost to.
Apart from getting back on a winning trail, they are so familiar with, New Zealand can seal a sixth southern hemisphere championship title if they pull off a bonus-point victory.
“Congratulations to the Springboks on their victory,” said Boffelli, a wing converted into an equally impressive full-back when Joaquin Tuculet was sidelined indefinitely.
“But they did us no favours,” he added after a training session ahead of the fifth-round clash at Estadio Jose Amalfitani, a venue used predominantly for football.
“I wanted New Zealand to come here having beaten South Africa because it is so seldom that they lose two matches in a row.”
New Zealand last suffered successive Test losses in 2011 when they were beaten 18-5 in South Africa and 25-20 in Australia.
“To overcome the All Blacks you have to play a perfect game and hope they do not,” admitted the tall 23-year-old.
“Focus is a key factor when you are playing against the best rugby team in the world. We must strive for perfection in order to beat them for the first time.”
Boffelli has formed a dynamic attacking trio with wings Bautista Delguy and Ramiro Moyano this year, but a rib injury rules out the latter this weekend.
The Pumas have undergone an encouraging u-turn since former national team hooker Mario Ledesma succeeded Daniel Hourcade as coach in the middle of this year.
Hourcade exceeded expectations by taking Argentina to fourth place at the 2015 World Cup in England, but then oversaw a horror run of 22 losses in 28 Tests.
Having taken the Argentine Jaguares to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time in his maiden season in charge, Ledesma has had a similar positive impact on the national team.
Victories over South Africa at home and Australia away mean they have already surpassed their previous best showing in the seven-year Rugby Championship.
“Something is happening in this team – you can sense it,” he noted after the win over the Wallabies.
“There is a positive fever, and it’s contagious.”
The ultimate challenge for Ledesma is the first victory over New Zealand – Argentina has drawn one Test against them and lost 26.
New Zealand has rested skipper and number eight Kieran Read and backline dynamo Damian McKenzie has returned home due to a family bereavement.
World Cup-winning coach Steve Hansen picked what he considers the best available team, one that shows six changes from that which started the 36-34 defeat by South Africa.
Wing Waisake Naholo, centre Sonny Bill Williams, scrumhalf Thomas Perenara, prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi and loose forwards Shannon Frizzell and Luke Whitelock has been drafted in.
Centre Ryan Crotty believes the All Blacks know where they went wrong against the Springboks, who triumphed despite being outscored by six tries to five.
“It’s really about our connections out there… feeding in everything we see that is critical for them (the playmakers) to make the right calls.”
New Zealand scored a bonus-point 46-24 victory over Argentina when they met in Nelson this month.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 28, 2018
Players to watch:
For Argentina: You start with fullback Emiliano Boffelli, for his creativity and the danger he poses with ball in hand. Of the other backline stars, the most critical will be flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez – who has outplayed just about every other No.10 this year. Up front, you will look at the workhorses – Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti and Agustin Creevy.
For New Zealand: With Ben Smith back at fullback you will expect plenty of guile and the Los Pumas defence will certainly have to keep their eyes on him. The return of Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield will also pose a few problems for the home team. Luke Whitelock at No.8 is worth keeping an eye on, as is his brother and captain Sam Whitelock in the No.4 jersey.
Head to head: Some intriguing contests all over the park. The most critical of the backline battles is at flyhalf – Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina) versus Beauden Barrett (New Zealand), a contest that could go a long way towards deciding the match. The set pieces will also be vital – Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti (Argentinas) versus Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock (New Zealand) in the line-outs, as well as Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina) versus Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Codie Taylor and Karl Tu’inukuafe (New Zealand) in the scrums.
Prediction: Argentina are yet to win a game against New Zealand in 27 fixtures; the closest they have come this decade was a 26-16 loss at the 2015 World Cup, in which they led 13-12 at half-time. New Zealand has beaten Los Pumas by a double-figure margin in their last five games hosted in Argentina, averaging 39 points scored per match in this time. Argentina has lost their last three games at Velez Sarsfield, a loss this weekend will equal their longest losing streak at the ground (four games between 1991 and 1992). Argentina will be gunning for back-to-back wins at home for the first time since 2016, after beating South Africa 32-19 in Round 2 of The Rugby Championship this year. New Zealand will be out to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time 2011 after going down 34-36 to South Africa last round; they trailed at half-time in both these losses in 2011 and trailed at half-time in the fixture against South Africa. Argentina has scored 20+ points in their last four games and has not scored 20+ points in five or more consecutive games since a run of six games across 2012-13. New Zealand is the only side yet to lose a scrum this tournament (22/22), while Argentina has the worst success rate of any team in this facet (75 percent). Argentina (65) have scored the most first-half points of any team this tournament and also have the best first-half points difference on aggregate (+16), having shipped just 49 first-half points. Four players have made 50+ carries in the 2018 Rugby Championship so far, all of whom are All Blacks, Ben Smith (53), Kieran Read (52), Jack Goodhue (52) and Beauden Barrett (50), Smith has also made the most breaks of any player (14). Argentina’s Ramiro Moyano leads the competition for metres gained (346) and defenders beaten so far (23), on average he has gained over 12 metres per carry, the only player to have made 5+ carries and averaged over 10 metres per carry. The romantics would want an Argentinean win and that is indeed a possibility. It would also set up the final round, if the Springboks can beat the Wallabies. However, the realists will tell you New Zealand will bounce back to win by 15 points or more.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Matias Orlando, 22 Sebastian Cancelliere.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Saturday, September 29
Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 19.40 (22.40 GMT; 11.40 NZ time Sunday, September 30)
Expected weather: A morning shower or heavy thunderstorm; otherwise, cloudy and humid. High of 23°C and a low of 14°C
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)
AFP & rugby365com
* Stats provided by Opta Sport