Argentina revel in All Blacks shock after virus-hit journey
REACTION: Coach Mario Ledesma says stunning the All Blacks after a 35-year wait is his finest achievement, hailing his Argentinian team after a long and emotional journey to breaking their hoodoo.
The Pumas went into Saturday’s Tri-Nations clash in Sydney having not played a Test in 13 months, while enduring coronavirus lockdowns in Argentina and Uruguay before quarantining for two weeks in Australia.
Some of the players and staff haven’t seen their families in four months, and along the way they had to deal with a dozen team personnel testing positive for COVID-19.
But rather than becoming disillusioned or going stir-crazy, the adversity brought them closer together.
Ledesma said their spirit and resilience played a large part in the shock 25-15 upset of three-time world champions New Zealand, their first win against the rugby powerhouse in 30 Tests.
“There’s no magic formula, it’s always the players,” he said.
“They’ve been great throughout the whole pandemic situation. Going from quarantine to quarantine. Some of the boys haven’t seen their families for four months and they haven’t complained once, they’ve always been positive.
“They’ve been awesome.”
Their victory was more remarkable given their Europe-based players only arrived in Sydney in late October, remaining in lockdown until just days before Saturday’s game.
It clearly didn’t affect France-based flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, their standout player who scored all the Pumas’ 25 points – a try, a conversion, and six penalties.
His Stade Francais colleague Pablo Matera was also exceptional, with the Argentina captain dominant at blindside flank.
“We just wanted to show our people if you work hard with a lot of determination you can get things done,” said Matera. “So, we are really proud of this team and for our country.”
Ledesma, a former Wallabies assistant coach, was emotional after the game, shedding tears as he celebrated with a small, but loud, contingent of Argentinian fans at Bankwest Stadium.
“We’ll remember this for a long time. Not only because of the game but the special situation that got us here,” he said.
Asked if it was his finest achievement, Ledesma replied: “It has to be up there.
“As a coach, the best one, because of everything we lived and experienced and the whole emotional journey that we’ve been through.”
They face Australia next week in their second Tri-Nations clash, with Ledesma urging his team to “just stay humble and keep working”.
While Argentina basked in one of their greatest victories, the All Blacks were left reeling from one of their worst defeats.
They were savaged Sunday by New Zealand media as “simply awful” after their first back-to-back defeats since 2011, following a loss to the Wallabies last weekend.
They lacked the passion and composure of Argentina, with questions being asked about their leadership under captain Sam Cane and coach Ian Foster, who has only managed two wins from the five games he has been in charge.
Foster, who was promoted to the top job ahead of Scott Robertson to replace Steve Hansen, said they were “bitterly disappointed”, admitting his team failed to match Argentina’s “massive energy and massive desire”.
But he denied feeling any added pressure with a bye next week giving him time to figure out what went wrong before a return clash with Argentina on November 28.
“We’ve clearly got to go away and ask ourselves some serious questions,” he said.
“That loss is going to hurt and we have to go back and use the next days well, recharge the team and make sure we finish off the year on a high.
“We don’t like having another team play more intensely than us and we have to go and figure out how to respond.”