Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Winter weather plays into Pumas' hands

Argentina base their game around a powerful set-piece. Photo / Christine Cornege
Argentina base their game around a powerful set-piece. Photo / Christine Cornege

After two physical Bledisloe Cup tests, the All Blacks will look towards their next assignment - Argentina in Napier in a fortnight - with the knowledge the Pumas have performed better against them in New Zealand than in their homeland during their time in the Rugby Championship.

There are probably several reasons for this. The Argentines, who joined the Tri Nations to make it the Rugby Championship in 2012, don't have the depth of the other three countries and tend to struggle late in the competition.

The format has seen them play the All Blacks in New Zealand early and host them in the penultimate test of the championship. By that stage their players, who base their game around set-piece power, have generally run out of steam.

Conditions are also usually better for running rugby in South America at this time of year.

A mid-winter's night in New Zealand often isn't conducive to an open game and last weekend that was the case in Sydney and Pretoria, two tests in which most of the players struggled in wet conditions.

Last year, the All Blacks won 33-15 in La Plata. The year before, it was 54-15. Both were disappointing results for the Pumas, who surprised the All Blacks with the opening try in Hamilton last year during the home side's 28-13 victory, with Juan Manuel Leguizamon scoring between the posts after five minutes.

A year earlier in Wellington, the score was 21-5 but the All Blacks scored two late converted tries through Julian Savea and Cory Jane to add gloss to the scoreline.

Argentina have been masters of the fast start and it takes time to break them down. They threatened for much of their World Cup quarter-final at Eden Park in 2011 before the All Blacks ground them down, unpicking a defence which generally gets narrower as the test goes on. It's a formula which has been repeated over the past two years.

It's only a matter of time before Argentina secure their first victory in this competition. They got close in Pretoria last weekend - a 13-6 defeat - and take on the Springboks in the return encounter in Salta this morning high on confidence. It's a match notable for the return of Springboks loose forward Juan Smith after an absence of four years.

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade will hope the return of second-five Juan Martin Hernandez will make up for the return of Smith, who is back after a serious Achilles tendon injury.

Argentina's best result in the competition has come against the Boks - a 16-16 draw - in Mendoza in 2012. They were beaten by a point by a Robbie Deans-coached Australia in Perth last year.

The Pumas will probably continue to struggle against the All Blacks until they improve their backline play, something which the addition of an Argentine team in Super Rugby from 2016 might help with. Until then, they will rely on their huge forwards and a defence which is difficult to get through.

After the Bledisloe Cup drama, the All Blacks will welcome the week off before having to face the Pumas at McLean Park. Steve Hansen's team face the Springboks, a team also notable for big men, in Wellington a week later.

- APNZ

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