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Pumas show commitment is in their DNA

Date

John Eales

Australia's Dave Dennis is tackled by Argentina's Julio Farias Cabello, left, and Eusebio Guinazu. Click for more photos

Wallabies comeback to down Pumas

Australia overcome 13-point deficit in second-half to sneak home against Argentina. Photo: Tertius Pickard

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.

11 comments so far

  • "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".

    This is the best comment I've read regarding the game so far. It bothers me that so many in the press and elswhere seem to think that a win by less than 15 against the Pumas is a bad performance. A little more knowledge and respect for Argentine rugby is required.

    As usual John, a top shelf article.

    Commenter
    Shop
    Location
    Argentina
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 4:13AM
    • @ Shop
      Respectively, I've been super impressed by how well the Bargies have taken it to the 'other three amigos'. As you know, I well and truely rated them prior to the comp and couldn't wait to see them compete at this level (not being arrogant) to get a good idea where they really were in the scheme of things. And what a lovely surprise !
      So unlucky not to win out-right against SA at Mendoza (?), then it took the ABs over 60+ mins to grind them down in (windy) Wellington and finally they had the lead for most of the game on the Gold Coast against the Wallabies and came-up just short. What's not to like about them apples, eh?
      Even more compelling is the ABs and Wallabies are yet to play at their place ! TISM !!
      Beuna dias Argentina.

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 5:12PM
  • 2 World cups ago a mate and I discussed how good Argentina goes considering how few tests they play as a cohesive unit adn with most of their top line spread throughout Euro clubs. They are already showing that they are genuine threats in the Championship. I predice that by 2014 they will have 100% at home and muscling in on the title.

    Dare to dream that a Pacific Islands team (it works for the Windies) is admitted in 2016, and the game truly starts an advanced march to the global audience

    Commenter
    null
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 8:52AM
    • Wachting the game here in the Cook Islands Australia played a great game and be proud Australians, The Pumas are a great team and to come back from 19 to 6 down and win by this young Australin Boys, I wonder how far this young team will go. Four years to the next World Cup and the Boys stayed together and Deans, Yea'h and don't forget a lot of key players through injuries wasn't there. Support is all They Want and Need, The Banana Boy from Mauke, Cook Islands.

      Commenter
      Banana Boy
      Location
      Cook Islands
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 9:14AM
      • Commitment is what Rugby is all about and one has to praise the Pumas for their commitment. They played hard and frankly they deserve far more respect than their ranking gives them, and maybe thats because they dont play a lot of Internationals and fior a long time their better players were playing in the tough French competition, the Hieneken Cup or in Italy , but the bottom line was that those stars were not released by their clubs. You talk about predictability, that seems to be only when Northern Teams send their thirds on tour, rather than their Firsts. The Northern Hemisphere has too often in the past not given a cracker about anything other than their own vested interests. The only time we appear to see a full strength side is at WC time or a Lions Tour and of course the French. The rest the history is lamentable. Often England and Wales in the past have sent weak teams.
        The Argies have beaten several good teams this year and were always going to be a tough team, and then take around 15 players out through injury and Australia without the depth of NZ looks fragile. Its easy to criticise the players but when you remove world class players then problems exist.
        For Australia their performance can only be beneficial. If one builds confidence and slf belief then and only then can we think about matching the best team bar none the mighty AB's. John you tasted success and bitter moments against the AB's and given the populations love of the game they will always be a powerhouse. For Australia playing teams like Argentina will only improve our scrummaging and that is a good thing.

        Commenter
        Lindsay
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 9:21AM
        • Help me here - who gave McCabe that pass he took to score? Was it Phipps? Was it Barnes? Couldn't have been Beale. And did someone get 10 in the bin? Was that Cooper? No? He was busy drawing several tacklers so that there was a gap outside him. How long before anyone could time a run and get through it? No gap, no pass, no try to start the come back. Come on - someone give Cooper some credit for something, hey? You could start John.

          Commenter
          William Tell
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          September 17, 2012, 12:18PM
          • So he made a pass and didn't get sin binned?

            Outstanding!

            Do you know the number for the Rugby Hall of Fame?

            Commenter
            piru
            Location
            Perth via Rakaia
            Date and time
            September 19, 2012, 3:37PM
        • Prophecies on the Argies capabilities in 2013 infer that neither the Wallabies; Saffers or AB's will counter their play. In effect what is being argued that Argentina will improve so much that they may take the championship in 2014. I would like to offer a counter argument that the Argies have one style of play (albeit effective). Deans will work it out and have a plan for Rosario. The Wallabies and the AB's will not play the same game again. This is something that will cause problems for the Pumas - most of their opponents up till now play the same game over and over hoping that Argentina will not find out. Against the Southern Giants they will struggle for the initial 5 years. This is owing to the changing and imaginative nature of Southern Rugby.

          Commenter
          Padi NZ
          Location
          Palmdale
          Date and time
          September 17, 2012, 10:04PM
          • the pumas are the future of world rugby.their perfomances show ateam ready to take the reigns of world rugby.watch out for them in 2015

            Commenter
            krs1
            Location
            zim
            Date and time
            September 17, 2012, 10:05PM
            • The inclusion of Argentina has been long overdue. They have made an undeniable statement in this tournament that they are here to compete and not just make up the numbers. They will only get better.

              Commenter
              Yank
              Location
              US
              Date and time
              September 18, 2012, 2:22AM

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