Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Napier chance to show mastery in rain

The All Blacks pride themselves on being able to cope with any conditions and Saturday's test against Argentina in Napier could give them a chance to prove they can play just as well in the wet as in the dry.

Their demolition of the Wallabies in perfect conditions at Eden Park last time out put a black line under that stalemate in Sydney which was played in constant rain, but the expected wet conditions at McLean Park against a physically bigger and tougher opponent than Australia will provide an opportunity to show they have more than one dimension to their game.

Added to the examination is Argentina's unique defence, which could be ideally suited to the conditions. They have the ability to get very narrow on defence - offering what looks like oodles of space on the outside - and then very quickly shut that space down.

Any handling errors by the All Blacks as they look to take advantage of that space are likely to be quickly seized upon.

The Pumas' kicking game has also improved to the point where they offered South Africa very few opportunities to counter-attack in their 33-31 defeat in Salta recently.

Combine that with a very combative forward pack - a group of extremely large men who can be difficult to shift - and the All Blacks face an energy-sapping night.

In sizing up the challenge the Pumas provide, All Blacks' assistant coach Ian Foster yesterday spoke of the unique way in which they defend.

"They offer a different proposition to Australia," he said.

"It's a system we've been aware of and they're very, very good at it, that ability to come up and shut you down and also to push very hard into those outside channels. It's not the easiest to combat but it's something we've been working on for the last couple of years."

The Pumas' attacking mindset against the Boks in Salta nearly got them the win they deserved, but it could get them into trouble against the All Blacks. If the visitors are careful with how they attack - and they must have seen how Israel Folau's stunning run for the Wallabies ended in a try for Julian Savea at the other end at Eden Park - their kicking game will come under severe scrutiny. Both Foster and fullback Ben Smith believe it is an area of improvement for the Pumas.

"They've always been great natural punters of the ball but now they are starting to intertwine that with a smarter strategy of where to kick it," Foster said. "There weren't a lot of counter-attacking opportunities last week for South Africa so clearly Argentina did a really good job of that. We want to pressure that part of their game."

Smith said: "They're definitely kicking a lot smarter and not giving teams space to counter, that's been a big part of their game over the last couple of weeks."

- NZ Herald

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