Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Pumas know mental focus critical

Argentina are working to align their mental focus with their renowned physical prowess to compete with the All Blacks on Saturday.

Several times in the Rugby Championship and notably in their latest 33-31 loss to the Springboks, inattention has cost the Pumas a historic first win in the series.

They must rectify those careless episodes if they want to rattle the All Blacks' pedigree at Napier on Saturday.

"It's the toughest match of the six," lock Mariano Galarza told the Pumas website.

If he and his teammates did not put in a full 80-minute shift it would be a long evening at McLean Park. They owed that concentration to their coaches, themselves and fans and had shown, when they got their act together, some very strong cohesion.

"But we had distractions that cost us dearly," Galarza added. "Where you lose focus for two minutes these teams score points so we have to try and not give away the ball and score points whenever we can."

That lesson bit the Pumas last weekend when they looked certain to claim a famous victory as they took a 28-16 lead into the final quarter against the Boks. That final 20 minutes turned into a tortuous path when they were run down by the persistent Boks.

Galarza is part of the powerful Pumas tight five where his 2.03m, 118kg frame and experience of 20 tests adds to the grunt the visitors want to exert on the tournament favourite All Blacks.

The medical student will switch clubs to Gloucester this season where his lineout work and physical presence suit the tempo of the club scene in England.

The Pumas have based themselves in Auckland until tomorrow and have witnessed climatic extremes in their initial training sessions with fine weather yesterday after Monday's cold, rain and muddy underfoot conditions.

Weekend weather forecasts suggested mixed conditions at Napier with the All Blacks playing only their second test at the east coast city after playing their first as the introduction to professional rugby back in 1996.

Training in a variety of weather, said Galarza, would prepare the Pumas for whatever they confronted on Saturday. They had to believe in themselves and that their style would create a historic victory.

It would be a huge challenge because the All Blacks were playing to very high standards.

The worry beads are not restricted to the Pumas. The All Blacks have felt the growing venom from the visitors, especially when games are slowed by conditions, and returning centre Conrad Smith and his teammates have been analysing their tactics.

"I don't like to admit it," Smith said, "and I don't like to think it would happen on my watch, but if they have a couple of cracks a year at us, then they will knock us off, but it's not something that any All Black side likes to think about."

- NZ Herald

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