Argentina focused on discipline ahead of All Blacks test

·4-min read

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Argentina’s Pumas have spent two weeks in quarantine reflecting on recent losses to South Africa and focusing on discipline ahead of Sunday’s Rugby Championship test against the All Blacks.

The Pumas lost to the Springboks 32-12 and 29-10 in Rugby Championship tests in South Africa before flying to Australia where they have had to isolate for 14 days before continuing the tournament. Sunday's match will be the first of a doubleheader at Robina Stadium on the Gold Coast in Queensland state, with the Wallabies hosting World Cup champion South Africa in the second game.

In total, 30 of the 61 points Argentina conceded against South Africa came from penalties — five in each match — and captain Julian Montoya believes better discipline will be vital against the All Blacks, who are well-equipped to punish lapses.

“We have been locked up for two weeks preparing for the game and being very self-critical,” Montoya said. “We always think about what we can improve and how we can be better.

“New Zealand, South Africa and Australia take you to the limit and that is great. But indiscipline is a matter of 100% concentration. We have to adjust that which was the biggest deficit in the last two games and it is difficult to compete with so much indiscipline.”

The Pumas have a strong focus on fundamentals — strong set pieces, rigid defense, good exits and accurate tactical kicking. Through those means they seek to control the pace of the game, a key factor against the All Blacks who will always attempt to lift the tempo and play fluidly, with minimal stoppages.

“The set pieces are fundamental, in this game and in all games,” Montoya said. “The key is is the obtaining of the ball.

“The way to be better is by working hard. There are no magic formulas, there are no shortcuts. You have to work and we are doing that, always trying to be better, being self-critical and training a lot.”

Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma agrees with Montoya that controlling the pace of the game will be crucial on Sunday. By dominating possession, controlling field possession and defending faultlessly for 80 minutes, Argentina was able to beat New Zealand for the first time in Sydney last year in that season’s reduced Tri-Nations tournament.

“The objectives for this Sunday are to control the game in the things that we can control, impose the things that we can impose and obviously that begins with winning the ball,” Ledesma said. “We have to play the game we want to play: New Zealand invites you to play a rhythm, a tempo that sometimes they alone can play.”

The Pumas come into Sunday’s match without a win in this year’s Rugby Championship, facing an All Blacks team atop the table after back-to-back wins over Australia.

New Zealand beat Australia 57-22 and 38-21 in the last two tests of the Bledisloe Cup series, which also were Rugby Championship matches. They scored 14 tries in those matches, helped greatly by an Australian team which too frequently gave away possession through turnovers, inaccurate kicking or passing and through poor discipline.

With regular possession and helped by Australia’s weak defense, New Zealand was able to control the pace and style of those games.

Head coach Ian Foster has made six changes to his lineup for Sunday’s match, from the one which beat Australia last weekend. But those changes don’t notably weaken the All Blacks — Foster has been able to replace wingers Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan with Sevu Reece and George Bridge, without losing any pace or power in the back three.

Juggling such depth of talent might be a headache for some coaches but Foster says “it’s a good headache."

“We have looked at it holistically,” he said. “Sevu was one of our form backs, he played well in (July) and the early (Bledisloe Cup tests). We gave him a rest last week and he’ll be ready to go. We are also seeing signs that George is back into the form we know, so it’s important he gets an opportunity to stake his claim.”

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