Argentina is, much to its regret, the chronicler of the All Blacks’ reconstruction. They set their house on fire in August of last year with their victory in Christchurch, their first on New Zealand soil, a 19-25 with makeup that put an expiration date on the coach, Ian Foster – he will not continue after the World Cup – and forced the rugby tyrant to move away from the first place in the ranking. The defeated giant, without the leaders of yesteryear, has grown from vulnerability: versatility in attack and discipline in defense. This Friday, 14 months later, he reestablished order with a categorical victory in Paris by 6-44 on his way to the World Cup final, in which he will face the winner of England-South Africa (this Saturday, 9:00 p.m.).
Argentina had only beaten the All Blacks twice in 36 games, but saw the glass half full: those victories had come in the last three years. Of the 23 semi-finalists, 15 played that match in Christchurch. That experience as fuel for a group questioned in a World Cup underperforming, with lows such as the clear defeat against England and highs such as their reaction in the quarterfinals to knock down Wales. But the mission required, as Emiliano Boffelli, the key kicker that day, recognized, “the perfect game.”
The first page was. His team stood in the New Zealand field after the kick-off and struck with the lead until the penalty hit came for Boffelli himself to start the game by scoring a simple kick between the sticks. With that, the Pumas had already improved their disastrous performance in the 2015 semifinals against Australia. Three points that did not set a trend because Argentina leveled the rival’s first position with fouls. Thus they stood at the border of the rehearsal while the referee reminded the Americans that the maul –the pushing platform formed after putting the ball into play from the wing– cannot be stopped by the side. So the defense piled up their strength and the All Blacks took advantage of the openness on the right for Will Jordan to score a routine try.
Other generations of the All Blacks were based on Herculean forwards with a bulky physique like Richie McCaw or groundbreaking three-quarters like Jonah Lomu. The current group is the heritage of total rugby, the forwards who not only charge – now they run and even kick – and the three-quarters with a freight train physique. With third lines like Ardie Savea – with a foot worthy of a fly half – or Sam Cane, the link between front and back is pure fluidity. A harmony that acquires its maximum expression in defense. Those fallible All Blacks who lost to Argentina combined fouls everywhere; A year and a half later, as they showed in the quarterfinals against Ireland, they can be dominated without breaking down. His patience without the ball exasperates rivals.
Defense was the foundational element of the two Argentine victories, duels in which the All Blacks did not exceed 20 points. In the other five matches they have played since 2020, they have added at least five tries and the partial of the two immediate antecedents was bloody: 94-15. “The way you tackle determines how you defend,” defended the Argentina coach, Michael Cheika, minutes before the game. When Boffelli saw Jordie Barret, one of the three brothers in the starting XV, arrive after one of those harmonious sequences of the entire black squad, he managed to knock him down, but it did not prevent him from trying. Another blemish that cost points.
The Argentine hope was the possession and the charges of Kremer or Isa, the meters they added breaking defenders. This is how they approached the test, but the line held and they settled for three points from Boffelli. A consolation that their rivals immediately neutralized with a kick from Mo’unga. And there was still a bite left before the break. Mark Tele’a broke a couple of friendly tackles from the Argentines to advance like a commodity, causing an impossible retreat for the Pumas. There was Shannon Frizell, another gordo prepared ready to pose.
It’s one thing to beat the All Blacks and another to beat them. And if the 20-5 score at halftime demanded aggressive treatment, the diagnosis worsened in the first set, a scrum dominated by those in black until its director, Aaron Smith, caught the ball and slipped between Argentine jerseys. Without pause, Frizell added another mark, now pulling with strength. The end was written when Jordan scored his eighth try, the top scorer of the tournament. Argentina tackled, but it was not enough. Their third World Cup semi-final had the same outcome as the others: a defeat without reply. In front was an ogre with wounds to heal. “We can have two types of Mondays and one of them is horrible,” pointed out Cane, the captain in black, one of those who bit the dust against England in Yokohama four years ago. The country that does not forget defeats will seek its fourth World Cup.
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