James Ihaka 's Opinion

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Day Eight: Following the All Blacks in Argentina

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The ABs' Cory Jane dives over for a late try at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata. Photo / David Rogers/Getty Images
The ABs' Cory Jane dives over for a late try at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata. Photo / David Rogers/Getty Images

We may have given them a towelling on the field but the Argentinians gave us a few lessons off of it.

The 54-15 scoreline at Estadio Unico in La Plata was not unexpected but still disappointing for both the Pumas 40,000-plus fans and people like me, who wanted to see a closer match and development in the world game.

There was a clear gulf in class between the world's best side that chose tonight to hit its straps and a team finding its feet in the Rugby Championship.

A local asked me at halftime when the All Blacks led whether we as New Zealanders respected Argentina being in the new competition.

The answer was yes, of course.

"We need to play the All Blacks regularly to get experience and to get better," he said. "I think we will too."

The Pumas were simply outclassed by a rampant All Blacks side who never gave the crowd we had heard so much about any chance to find their voice.

But what struck the travelling All Black supporters was the grace of their hosts.

I can't remember the last time bus loads of opposing supporters were given police escorts to a stadium. Better still were the dozens of locals - bar one who did something with his crotch - who stopped to wave and smile at us as we drove through La Plata.

They were clearly happy that the world's best team was there and their fans had travelled a long distance to support them - even signs saying "come on Pumas" had the grace to say "Welcome All Blacks" on them too - have we ever done anything like that for visiting rugby teams ?

During the match it was hard not to notice the silence when the Puma five eighth was taking his shots at goal save for the whistling from All Black supporters that drew shocked looks from the locals.

Of course they returned this in full with high-pitched whistling when Dan Carter lined up for conversions and penalties - but this drew a stern response from the ground announcer who asked the local fans to respect the opposition.

It was also hard not to notice the dozens of New Zealand fans not indulging in any booze for the entire game - the situation forced on them by the ground's no-alcohol policy did not make for an experience any less enjoyable.

"It's probably not a bad thing but it could take some getting used to," said my friend and host, Al, a former Cantabrian and long-time Buenos Aires resident.

As the All Black fans left the ground, an elderly gentleman stood at an exit and gracefully shook our hands as we left.

"You are the champions," he said.

"Thank you for coming to Argentina."

Our team departs for South Africa tomorrow and so will we say goodbye to this vast, rough-edged, bustling but magnificent and breathtaking city.

The All Black fans I have spoken with say the historic trip has exceeded their expectations in every way, though some would argue a few phrases of Spanish may not go amiss for future tours.

James Ihaka was in Buenos Aires following the All Blacks and their supporters thanks to the courtesy of Air New Zealand.

James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

James Ihaka has worked at the NZ Herald since 2006 having moved from the Gisborne Herald newsroom, more consistent surf and nil traffic worries. He’s a latecomer to journalism after stints travelling and teaching English as a foreign language and a foray into IT. James has worked in the Herald’s Hamilton newsroom since 2008 and he covers all breaking news in the Waikato region that encompasses virtually everything south of the Bombay Hills to Palmerston North. He took over the Maori Affairs role late last year and has whakapapa to Te Aupouri, Ngati Rangitihi, Ngati Porou and Ngati Raukawa ki te Tonga.

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