If you were to construct the perfect rugby team, they would play with the everlasting commitment of the Argentinian Pumas. Their somewhat benign light blue and white jersey belies their ferocity, as they play as if they have a black arm band permanently stitched on their sleeve. Forget the anthem – these guys shed tears over breakfast.
Other coaches must covet the Pumas' commitment, and would kill to catch just part of that fever; the fever that denies any instinct for self-preservation and puts honour above all else. Such sentiment is neither easily nor quickly manufactured; rather, it's part of the DNA. Graham Henry wasn't in their coach's box to teach them that.
But such focus is not always as usefully deployed as it was for much of the Pumas' match against the Wallabies at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast on Saturday. And that is why Henry was on hand – to add finesse to the fire and purpose to the passion. When the Pumas master this for 80 minutes, as opposed to 60, their success percentages will change and will do so dramatically; 16-all draws asthey had with the Springboks, 21-5 losses to the All Blacks and 23-19 failings to the Wallabies will more regularly morph into victories.
Make no mistake, however, the glory of their emerging consistency is Argentina's and not Henry's. But at the same time New Zealand's generosity and influence on global rugby cannot be trivialised. Their willingness to preach the word and grow the game has spread tentacles in developing and developed rugby nations alike, increasing standards across the board.
Some may surmise the Wallabies' narrow escape in this match is another indication of Australian rugby's demise. I think it more accurately reflects Argentina's rise.
One of the biggest criticisms of rugby has always been that international results are too predictable, so we must enjoy the new normal, even if it leads to the odd palpitation.
In confronting Argentina, while you may not carry the same gnawing “I'm about to be in a car crash” feeling as when playing Samoa or Tonga, you still harbour the sense that it's not going to be comfortable. They play hard and yield no easy moment.
In essence they have traditionally held two arrows in their quiver: they look to dominate the contact, and they won't allow you to play your natural game.
Their directness dictates that their loose forwards go hard and as one at the ball, their defence is unrelenting, in the line-out they substitute any lack of subtlety with substance, and in their corner of South America, statues are built for scrummagers, not showpony backs.
They were true on all these measures on Saturday.
Secondly, they are momentum thieves – they won't concede a comfort zone and thus don't allow you to fall into your natural game.
With 20 minutes to go in Saturday's Test and the Wallabies 13 points to the south, the critics were preparing the autopsy. Yes, a lot of players were missing but a lot of the problems were the same: lack of continuity, bullied out of the game, not staying composed. But then we saw the best of what we have to offer, from the old and the new, and it swiftly countered the passion, direct play and stagnation inflicted by the Pumas.
The Wallabies first countered through confrontation up the middle, particularly through the likes of captain Nathan Sharpe and debutante Kane Douglas, and then by deception, through Nick Phipps' skirting around the outside. But the deception couldn't have happened without the confrontation, for sacrifice almost invariably precedes gain. The scorecard will bear the names of the try-scorers, Pat McCabe and Digby Ioane, but the plaudits should go equally to the team.
Other Wallabies contributed well.
Berrick Barnes was again a standout, although this time from the uncustomary position of fullback. Michael Hooper continues to impress, as did McCabe in his comeback match. Douglas was vigorous as Sharpe's locking partner.
Investment bank executive and rugby statistician Matthew Alvarez reminded me last week that since professionalism in 1996, the Wallabies have won only 25 per cent of matches in which they were behind at half time, yet 85 per cent of those they led at the break. So even though this victory may have been more courageous than convincing, those statistics, and a difficult injury toll, put the past two weeks in even greater perspective.