David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Pumas pressure tests All Blacks resolve

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Winger Cory Jane takes on the Argentine defence with Piri Weepu in support. Photo / Greg Bowker
Winger Cory Jane takes on the Argentine defence with Piri Weepu in support. Photo / Greg Bowker

Argentina's challenge last night was to emulate the French of 24 hours earlier.

Simple really. Play the game of your lives, hope your opponents are on a collective hangover and away you go.

In truth, the scale of Argentina's task at Eden Park last night was not in the same street as the French against England.

No one doubted France had a huge game in them, if only they could find the key to unlock the door behind which lay the script on how to beat England.

When the final quarter-final kicked off, a pool winner had yet to advance into the last four. Argentina, world No 7, therefore had the honour of the runners-up to maintain.

Three from three - given the order in which the quarter-finals were played - was very much on. A clean sweep was not.

Yet by halftime Argentina had defied the sceptics and were right in the contest at 12-7.

With 14 minutes left they still only trailed by eight and they'd lost halfback Nicolas Verdallo to a yellow card from spoilsport referee Nigel Owens. There was precious little glory for the All Blacks last night. Too often they lacked accuracy. Fortunately they had Piri Weepu's kicking, so yes they won, and they certainly got the workout they were looking for after being in one of the weaker pools.

But the Pumas - of whom far less was expected - were stubborn and defiant in defeat. They continually asked questions of the cup favourites. Their heart was huge.

Argentina had only a draw to show for 13 tests against the All Blacks but if you assumed there was some self-doubt, it didn't show.

They had tackled like demons, their spirit levels were high, they'd harassed and harried their opponents who were sluggish and clearly unprepared for the length of the Argentine resistance.

A bullish half hour is one thing; last night showed they have substantially more than that.

They join the Four Nations next year. They will take scalps, be sure of that.

For 66 minutes, Argentina had the only try of the match. Chalk it up as one of the best moments of the tournament.

No 8 Leonardo Senatore - one of the few amateurs in the Argentine squad - set it up from 60m out with a fabulous bust off the back of a scrum, flanker Julio Farias Cabella finished it off. And Felipe Contepomi's cool conversion made it 7-6. Terrific. Game very much on.

Argentina would not go away. Heads did not drop. Early in the second half, a booming penalty by Marcelo Bosch had Argentina trailing by two points.

In the end, they did fade, and it was a 23-point victory, but that disguises the vigour and wholeheartedness of the Puma fight.

The All Blacks lead-in had included a salute to their second centurion, Mils Muliaina, plus the discovery that within their playing ranks they possess a complete goat.

Step forward Cory Jane, out and about drinking and smoking in a North Shore bar three days before the (presumably) most important game of his life, and evidently generally behaving like a jerk.

Zac Guildford, having been made to walk a very public plank a couple of weeks ago for his indiscretions, will take an interest in Jane's punishment.

The arrival of Jane's face on the giant screens before kickoff drew a muted response from the near-full house. As it happened he had a decent game, which is beside the point.

There is a time and a place for a puff and gargle, should you wish. Seventy-two hours before a cup quarter-final, and on public view, was most certainly not it.

Okay no vertically-challenged people were being tossed about for laughs, but put it down to stupidity and not exactly playing for the team.

In the absence of a hotline to Richie McCaw - a guess could be hazarded that the captain took a - ahem - seriously dim view of Jane's behaviour.

If an All Black lacks the self control to pull his head in for a little over two weeks in pursuit of the ultimate collective prize - cannot be trusted, basically - he's got a problem.

- NZ Herald

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