Five thoughts on the worst test of 2020, and a pat on the back for local rugby.
1) Put this Pumas-Wallabies test on a video loop and the world will never need sleeping pills again
Eighty two minutes of fumbling, poor decisions, ill discipline, and a never ending dialogue between Michael Hooper and referee Paul Williams, and the best the 15-all Wallabies-Pumas shambles could offer wasn't even one lousy try, just ten tedious penalty goals.
This wasn't, as Steve Hansen once noted of a draw, "like kissing your sister." This was like kissing your sister after you'd both just eaten sardine and raw onion sandwiches. I started loving rugby as a kid, and I still do, because at its best it's dynamic, skilful and exciting. But I'm not that besotted that I can't recognise garbage when confronted by the great steaming pile of landfill that was the coma inducing travesty we saw stumble to a standstill in Newcastle.
2) This wasn't the Pumas who beat the All Blacks, but they didn't need to be.
Teams bereft of ideas kick up and unders, and chase hopefully. The All Blacks were guilty of that last week, but this weekend both sides in Newcastle were reduced to the punting last resort of the clueless.
The Pumas looked, especially in the first half, like men whose minds were still rerunning the glory of their last performance. Luckily for them this is not a very good Wallabies side. Many of the Australian team are so young Dave Rennie may yet turn them into a real force. However right now they have enthusiasm but very little finesse.
3) The All Blacks will still need to be at their best against the Pumas next Saturday
It is, the highly astute Conrad Smith noted last year in Japan, very difficult for even the best teams to have back to back golden games. At the 2015 World Cup, he said, a stunning 62-13 quarter-final victory for the All Blacks over France in Cardiff, was followed by a scratchy 20-18 semifinal win against South Africa.
On that basis, put the mediocrity of Argentina's draw with Australia down to the aftermath of glory, but be aware that Argentina have the potential to again summon the brilliance that led to their historic defeat of the All Blacks. After all, the only thing more exciting for the Pumas than their first win over the All Blacks would surely be a second victory.
4) A list of what the All Blacks will need to win next Saturday should just say: Discipline
Against Australia the one area the Pumas shone in was provocation. As they did with the All Blacks they niggled, they threatened, they pushed, they gesticulated, and generally acted the way John McEnroe did when he was tennis's Superbrat, and knowingly used tantrums to spook umpires and opponents.
So the All Blacks need to be disciplined, and let the last swing of the handbag under the ref's nose in a scuffle be by a Puma. They need to apply the same discipline to their tactical kicking, only putting the ball where there's chance they might recover it, and to their passing, with no more wild flings that bounce behind team-mates. Do all of the above, and the break over summer in New Zealand will be a much happier time.
5) When love affairs grow shaky
It was a strange week off the field when Sam Cane was castigated by some for saying out loud what every rugby player I've ever got to know has thought privately, that some (not all) fans have the same grasp on the game that Rudy Giuliani has on reality and hair product.
Twenty years ago Marc Ellis, the darling of the scarfies, the delight of reality television fans, and the player every man and woman in the street at the time related to the most, lamented the demise in the player-supporter bond that professionalism had wrought.
"If you lost before people would still be right behind you," he told me in 2000. "They'd say, 'Never mind, we'll have a good win next week eh?' But when I went back to Dunedin last year with the Highlanders it really wasn't the same. Now players are paid people want a win every week, and some get bloody unhappy if that doesn't happen."
6) Meanwhile two very good teams will play out the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final
The revival of rugby in Auckland will continue when Eden Park hosts the final between Auckland and Tasman next Saturday night. Alama Iremaia and his Auckland coaching team have built a side that can now underpin the Blues, just as Tasman do with the Crusaders. (There's been a full-time Crusader Academy in Nelson since 2015. The Blues, on the other hand, suffered for years from appalling administration too myopic to copy the embracing culture of the Crusaders.)
The TAB has Auckland favourites at $1.57 to $2.30, and they're probably right. But then, the TAB had the Pumas at $10 outsiders against the All Blacks last weekend didn't they?