James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Day Six: Following the All Blacks in Argentina

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Former Argentine prop Serafin Dengra remembers packing down in a scrum against an All Black front row that included Steve McDowell, Sean Fitzpatrick and Richard Loe.

It was the late 1980s and Dengra was marking Loe, who welcomed him to New Zealand by raking his face with his hand.

The two disengaged from the scrum "and then we fight!" says Dengra, throwing a few shadow punches just to show me what he meant.

The pair traded blows before Loe said to him, "Okay, now we can play some rugby".

Along with Serge Blanco, Dengra was one of my heroes back in rugby's amateur days, so to see him at the San Martin rugby club, about 40 minutes drive from the centre of Buenos Aires, was a massive thrill.

Back then a massively mulletted Dengra looked like my favourite wrestler - the Ultimate Warrior - just without the face paint and steroids.

So when a colleague of mine said he looked like Brent Todd, I took it personally.

Dengra greeted us at the rugby club which was established by a group of Englishmen 104 years ago as they helped to build the city's railway system.

Here dozens of children, many of them in All Black jerseys and even one in Hurricanes colours, went through their paces on a ground with a few blades of grass.

Their skill level impressed many of the All Black supporters. One man told me it was encouraging for the game to see this. Anyway, back to Dengra.

It's hard to believe that he has just celebrated his 51st birthday.

In a one-on-one showdown with All Black legend and top guy Frank Bunce, Dengra wasted little time in getting his kit off for the ladies to show everyone he has still maintained his physique.

He won that one hands down (Frank kept his shirt on).

He also won the haka (Frank had the help of a kapa haka group) though Frank won the tango, despite having an unfair advantage - he was on Dancing with the Stars, remember.

Dengra's admiration and respect for the All Blacks was immense saying, "They play like lions on the field but off of it they are gentlemen".

He believes the Pumas have a 50/50 chance of winning if they maintain their concentration but the All Blacks will find the stadium at La Plata unlike anything they have encountered. "There will be 50,000 people there and the noise will be incredible," he said.

Dengra told us that he was awarded the player of the match in that game where he had the dust-up with Loe. He was awarded a watch but because of Argentina's strict amateur rules he said he was not allowed to accept it.

On the bus back to the city the fans are getting anxious for the game on Saturday night.

Many agree with Dengra that the Pumas are a very good chance. And a few are even saying it wouldn't be a bad thing if the All Blacks lost.

"We'd be here to see history created," an elderly gentleman told me.

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

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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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