Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks aware of Pumas' threat

The All Blacks' victory over Argentina in Wellington last year was memorable for several reasons - including a 10-minute floodlight failure - but the match sticks in Ian Foster's mind as the hardest home match his side played last year.

In driving rain at the Cake Tin, and with the All Blacks not quite on their game, the Argentines played with grit and intelligence, using a kicking strategy and a rush defence to put the home side under so much pressure it wasn't until the final quarter that Richie McCaw's men took control.

Two tries in six minutes from local boys Julian Savea and Cory Jane once the Pumas had lost loose forward Julio Farias Cabello to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on took the game from the visitors and handed the All Blacks a 21-5 win that wasn't as clear-cut as the scoreline suggests.

It is a match which will be touched on this week as the All Blacks prepare for their Rugby Championship test against the Pumas at Waikato Stadium, assistant coach Foster suggesting the Wellington battle was tougher than the last-gasp 22-19 win over Ireland in Christchurch last year.

In what will be a home test match for the former Chiefs coach, Foster was asked yesterday about the last All Blacks encounter in the city - a 60-0 drubbing of a tired and disillusioned Ireland - but he quickly put it in perspective, saying the Wellington test was a better benchmark.

"This was one of our most difficult home games last year," Foster said. "We really struggled against Argentina in that first game. We remember that, we remember they have the ability to try to slow us down and be destructive with their defence and their line speed."

The Argentines have made much recently of how former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry has opened their horizons to a more attacking game plan.

Whether they give the ball air this weekend or resort to a tighter game plan - which almost reaped them dividends against the Springboks in Mendoza last weekend - remains to be seen, but Foster said the Pumas had the ability to mix things up.

"Last year they probably surprised with how they used the ball," he said. "They weren't just a set-piece, kick-and-chase team. They surprised us with a couple of quite attacking tries they scored against us. They showed an ability to play an attacking game.

"When they get that mix right with their forward power they're a very tough team to play against. They probably closed up last week and resorted more to their traditional strengths so it's going to be interesting how they get that balance against us."

The only question marks for the All Blacks is at first-five and second-five. Foster said Dan Carter was progressing "very well" from the calf strain which ruled him out of the Bledisloe Cup tests, with Beauden Barrett also likely to be available after recovery from a similar injury. Aaron Cruden is still out with a knee injury.

Foster said Ma'a Nonu's ankle was improving, but he had complete confidence in Blues midfielder Francis Saili, who is yet to make his test debut.

"He's certainly been exposed to the set up long enough to be ready," Foster said. "We've been impressed with his skillset. He's still a young man. I think he had a great Super rugby campaign, he's confident, I think he would bring that confidence on to the international stage."

Home tally

All Blacks' home results last year:

* beat Ireland 42-10 in Auckland
* beat Ireland 22-19 in Christchurch
* beat Ireland 60-0 in Hamilton
* beat Wallabies 22-0 in Auckland (Rugby Championship)
* beat Argentina 21-5 in Wellington (RC)
* beat South Africa 21-11 in Dunedin (RC).

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 22 Dec 2014 18:11:20 Processing Time: 703ms