Rugby Union: Pumas can rise to All Blacks challenge

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RUGBY betting analyst Christian Murray (@wncomwncobutt) returns with his best bets from Saturday's action in the opening round of the Rugby Championship.

Argentina v New Zealand | Saturday 20th July 2019, 19:05 | Sky Sports

I’m seeing a lot of chat from several sources on the internet talking up Argentina’s chances this weekend. Popular opinion seems to be that this is the best chance a Pumas team has had clinching a first-ever victory over the All Blacks since they first met in 1985. Having run the rule over the fixture myself, I can’t see it.

It boils down to a simple equation – Crusaders beat the Jaguares = All Blacks to beat the Pumas. Although, I am predicting it to be closer than the bookies currently suggest and therefore the +13 start on Argentina (10/11 SkyBet) looks very generous.

Jaguares excel in Super Rugby

There’s no hiding from the fact that the Pumas are ostensibly the Jaguares, plus a few others – 34 of their 46-man provisional World Cup squad arrives from Argentina’s Super Rugby franchise. That’s not a bad thing when you consider the impressive season the Jaguares have just had.

You can guarantee that coach Mario Lesdesma will be looking to build on the confidence and momentum created by the Jaguares season defying performance in this year’s Super Rugby campaign. The Argentine national coach will be working with a core of players that have developed a good understanding, work very well as a unit and know each other’s game inside out.

Let’s also not forget that the Jaguares run to the final saw them defeat three of the New Zealand franchises home and away. But test rugby is an altogether different animal and that’s why I think they’ll come up just short, even though the Pumas will have also been boosted by the inclusion of their European club playing contingent.

Ledesma is likely to start Nicolas Sanchez, Fercundo Isa and Santiago Cordero, Argentina will be playing in front of their passionate, fervent and raucous fans and their under-performing scrum has have been thrown a lifeline with the recent change in scrummaging laws, plus  the addition of Saracens prop ‘Chipi’ Figallo.

The Pumas will also benefit from the Jaguares development that has seen the franchise find different ways to win, learn how to close games out, be much more aggressive in defence and establish a level of belligerence that had hitherto been absent. But it still won’t be enough, in my view.

A step up in class

As Aaron Smith has pointed out, international rugby is different. The intensity is higher, the calibre of opponent higher, the experience opposing you deeper, the margin for error tighter.

Drawing teams almost exclusively from one club, or provincial team often ends up with those teams trying to replicate what they do to succeed at club level. Invariably, they discover that international opponents are not so obliging when it comes to the gaps and strategic errors, nor are there the weak spots that clubs might be concealing.

Add to that further concerns over the inability of the Pumas to convert the try scoring opportunities they create, worries about their scrum, inconsistencies with their kicking game, questionable discipline and lack of composure, especially amongst 9, 10 and 12 when the pressures on that can lead to costly mistakes.

All Blacks without Crusaders stars

Even though the All Blacks will be without their Crusaders contingent – left at home to nurse a few knocks – the depth of talent in the squad that has travelled to Buenos Aires is quite frightening. No Kieran Read, but my player of the Super Rugby tournament Ardie Savea is back to number eight to cover him. Sonny Bill Williams isn’t going to be risked – no dramas we’ll pick the human wrecking ball that is Ngani Lumpae.

The embarrassment of riches that Steve Hansen has to call upon beggars belief. With the exclusion of several more prominent team members they will be forced to select less experienced members of the squad, but don’t for a second think that’ll make them a softer touch or easier to beat. There is the small matter of the World Cup looming on the horizon.

So the likes of Luke Jacobson, Atu Moli, Anton Lienart Brown, Vaea Fifita, Patrick Tuipolutu and Jackson Hemopo will be looking to make the most of the opportunity and put down a marker to give themselves the best chance of making it onto the plane to Japan come September. The team selected will on paper look a lot different but the spine of team still boasts marquee players like Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Ben Smith, so they’ll boast a wealth of test match experience.

For me, it’s an All Blacks will win – but I do foresee the Pumas running them very close as they’ll get some success in key areas that I’ve elaborated more on below – so I’d be more than happy to lump on the generous +13 start that the bookies are offering.

Exploit a rusty New Zealand start?

Now regardless of the ‘Foundation Day’ camps that were held throughout the Super Rugby campaign for All Black squad members, and the two weeks preparation time they’ve had in the lead up to this first fixture, New Zealand are always a bit rusty at the start of a Championship. They haven’t played a test match since November 2018 and with several new faces in the starting XV it could take time for the new combinations to gel.

I can see there being quite a few errors by the All Blacks in attack early doors, which will present a few turnover opportunities for the Pumas will to capitalise on, and with individuals like Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Cordero and Matias Orlando they are very dangerous on the counter-attack.

The same goes for Beauden Barratt – he has been known to ping a few aimless kicks around early on in games, which the Argentine back three would run back with interest. I can also see the Pumas getting some change from the New Zealand defence – the new look back row and midfield haven’t played together much so could take time to adjust. There could be some holes around the ruck, and especially in midfield where Ngani Lumape’s communication has seen him come in for some criticism. Argentina – who in attack run a very flat line – could take advantage of that and make some big territory gains.

The Jaguares line-out was impressive in Super Rugby and I see no reason why it can’t continue into the international arena. They put enormous pressure on the Chiefs and Brumbies in the quarter and semi-final respectively and with the All Blacks missing two of their go-to line out specialists in Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read, that could be another area where the Pumas will look to disrupt.

So with the All Blacks taking time to get into their groove, there’s a good possibility that the Argentines could have their noses in front at half-time before All Black parity returns in the second 40. With that in mind, have an interest in the 11/2 from Boylesports on the flip-flop in the Half-Time/Full-Time market for Argentina/New Zealand.

Best Bets

Argentina v New Zealand – Argentina +13 handicap (10/11 SkyBet)

Argentina v New Zealand – Argentina/New Zealand HT-FT (11/2 Boylesports)

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