Wind, rain make for close match
The All Blacks ground out a scrappy victory against Argentina in terrible conditions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday night.
There was a lot of interest in the lead-up to the test, however, most of it centred on Graham Henry and what kind of advisory role he was playing and whether he would be in the Pumas coach’s box.
Throughout the week the media was flooded with comments and opinions about whether or not Graham Henry should be helping Argentina.
My view, for what it is worth, he has given sterling service to New Zealand rugby from first XV level right through to the most demanding coaching appointment in world rugby, retiring only after delivering the World Cup and countless other important trophies and helping mould many of today’s great players.
If he has the skills and the knowledge to help other countries, he has the right to do as he pleases, just as players and other coaches do.
I think it is great that he is helping the development of Argentinian rugby and helping them achieve and maintain equal status with the other top nations of the world.
Argentina named their strongest side with many of the same starters who played against South Africa.
The one key addition was first five Juan Martin Hernandez returning from injury.
On the other hand, the All Blacks made quite a few changes to the team that played Australia.
Wyatt Crockett was ousted in favour of Tony Woodcock, back from injury. Sam Whitelock was relegated to the bench with Brodie Retallick preferred to partner Luke Romano in the second row.
The only other change in the forwards was the inclusion of Victor Vito as blindside flanker instead of Liam Messam.
Dan Carter pulled out after initially being selected giving his “twin brother” Aaron Cruden the first five role.
Last but not least, Conrad Smith at centre, and Julian Savea on left wing in place of Hosea Gear completed the changes.
The wet slippery conditions made it difficult to achieve the high speed, open running game favoured by the All Blacks, meaning it would be a forward orientated battle and therefore playing into the Pumas’ hands.
The first quarter was a dingdong battle with both teams trying to gain the ascendancy.
Eventually Aaron Cruden managed to put the All Blacks in front with a penalty. After some hard grafting up the field, the Pumas’ forwards started their assault on the line with veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero crashing across for the first try of the match.
The crowd was stunned into silence with the Argies scoring the first try.
It was a well-constructed try rewarding their forwards for some great work.
Both teams found the general kicking and goal kicking very difficult in the blustery and swirling conditions, as evidenced by some of the goal kicks being pushed well off target.
And many times high kicks were blown back towards the kicker.
Both teams bumbled their way through the rest of the half making many handling errors and mistakes leaving the score at 6-5 to New Zealand at halftime.
Immediately after the resumption, the power went out, plunging the stadium into darkness.
Both teams went back to the changing rooms for an extra 15-20 minutes while the lights were powered up again.
Perhaps it was a sign to come for the Pumas with the stadium going all black.
In the first 25 minutes the only scoring action was a penalty to New Zealand.
Argentina had a couple of missed shots at goal, which is becoming a bit of a bugbear for them, with memories of missed goals costing them in the first test against South Africa.
Slick passing through the backs set up the try for Savea to score off a Nonu pass to make the score 14-5 after Cruden missed the kick.
A few minutes later, Cory Jane managed to slide over in the right hand corner to make the score 21-5. I personally found the game frustrating to watch as New Zealand made countless handling errors and threw too many 50/50 passes.
Once again, there were far too many penalties.
Whether they were wrong or right, it still made the game a stop-start affair with no flow or continuity.
One thing that really gets on my nerves is all the referees in the tests so far have been Northern Hemisphere refs.
Over there, they ref a much different kind of game to the sort we play in the Southern Hemisphere.
I think the northern refs are not up to speed with the style of play we aim to play.
You would think the IRB would select southern hemisphere refs to referee Southern Hemisphere games.
There is an old saying – a win is a win is a win!
Even though we didn’t play very well, we still managed to close out the game.
I take my hat off to Argentina who played admirably and pushed us hard all the way.
The Wallabies played the Springboks in Perth, immediately after the All Blacks test.
There was a lot of pressure on Australia and their coach Robbie Deans, who really had to ensure a victory to feel secure in his job.
Fortunately for him his charges managed to close out a very good victory 26-19 over South Africa.
Unfortunately, the Wallabies have the captain’s curse.
First James Horwill was injured in Super Rugby, then David Pocock was injured in the first test in Sydney, and on Saturday Will Genia broke a bone in his leg and will be out for the rest of the competition.
I’m sure the rest of the players will be dreading hearing their name being called as captain.
A win's a win: All Blacks winger Junior Savea slides in for a try against Argentina in Wellington on Saturday.