Pumas in action during the 2020 Tri-Nations match between the Australian Wallabies and the Argentina Pumas at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, Australia, November 21 2020. Picture: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
Pumas in action during the 2020 Tri-Nations match between the Australian Wallabies and the Argentina Pumas at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, Australia, November 21 2020. Picture: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Sydney — Argentina were written off by everybody but themselves before the start of the makeshift Tri-Nations tournament but will put one hand on their maiden southern hemisphere Test title if they can find a way to beat New Zealand again this weekend. 

The Pumas sent shock waves around the rugby world two weeks ago when they deservedly earned their first win over the three-time world champions with a 25-15 victory in their first Test in more than a year.

They followed that with a battling 15-15 draw with Australia last week in Newcastle and, equal on points but with a game in hand over their rivals, have their first major international silverware within their grasp.

The odds will still have to be stacked against them but the Pumas have been defying expectations with missionary zeal and an iron will since landing in Australia. Their economically struggling homeland, which is still reporting thousands of new cases of Covid-19 every day, suffered another blow on Wednesday when football great Diego Maradona died.

“He’s a big figure in our country and he epitomised a lot of the way the Argentinians are,” coach Mario Ledesma said on Thursday. “We’ll try to remember him the best way possible, on the field representing the colours.”

A second victory over the All Blacks, however unlikely it would have seemed just a few weeks ago, would plunge New Zealand rugby further into crisis. Ian Foster is under huge pressure after his first five games in charge netted two wins, a draw and two defeats, and should the All Blacks suffer three successive losses for the first time since 1998 it could well signal a premature end to his tenure.

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez has scored every point in Argentina’s two matches, all but five from the kicking tee, so discipline will be essential if the All Blacks are to end their losing run, which includes a 24-22 submission to Australia.

Sanchez was one of only five players retained in the starting side for Saturday’s match as the Pumas face four matches in four weeks against top quality Test opposition. 

Foster resisted the temptation to do the same, handing 12 of the players who started at Western Sydney Stadium two weeks ago the chance to redeem themselves. Flanker Akira Ioane, lock Scott Barrett and prop Nepo Laulala are the new faces as New Zealand look to end their season with a bang and a bonus-point victory.

“We have got another opportunity to finish the year on the level we want to,” Foster said on Thursday. “We have got a chance to win the championship and that means a lot to us.”

Reuters

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