A strange game. These three words summed up the All Blacks’ most uncomfortable comfortable win in years. The All Blacks play went from the sublime first 30 minutes to the ridiculous, clumsy and spiteful second half. So what talking points emerged from all this?
Beauden Barrett is a freak – when his game (and Aaron Smith) is on.
Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Waisake Naholo formed a lethal triumvirate which cut the Pumas to shreds in the first half. Barrett sparked many of the breaks with some truly freakish pieces of skill such as his lightning pickup and through the legs pass which gave McKenzie the space to cut loose.
His scintillating break and pinpoint pass earlier set up Naholo and he seemed to be heading towards one of the greatest test performances by a flyhalf.
But then his play along the All Blacks’ game fell to pieces as they got sucked into a grisly scrap in the forwards. Barrett, for his part, didn’t really right the ship with much authority and parts of his game like the pass-kicks were tentative and a bit desperate. Barrett feeds off the bullet passes of Aaron Smith and also his strategic leadership. With Smith on, the attention is lessened on Barrett and the drop-off in quality when the two are separated is now very noticeable.
How can the All Blacks play so dreadfully for 50 minutes and still win 36-10?
In a way, this muddling performance by the All Blacks must almost be more disconcerting for the rest of the rugby world than their 57-0 annihilation of South Africa in the previous game. The All Blacks made a raft of changes and had a very inexperienced pack with six of the players totalling only 59 Test caps.
However, the pack pulverised the renowned Puma scrum leading to several penalties. The All Blacks also turned the ball over an astounding 20 times, their passing under pressure was awful in the second half and they lacked direction and leadership. But the electric brilliance of the four try 20 minute period in the first half meant they still won by 26 points.
Has Damian McKenzie risen in the pecking order of All Black fullbacks?
After this man of the match performance, the answer would have to be yes. Ben Smith, who is on sabbatical, must still be at the top of Steve Hansen’s list, but McKenzie must have overtaken the injured Jordie Barrett with his at times, breathtaking play. The stats don’t lie: a match high 107 metres from 14 carries, 1 try, 1 try assist, 7 defenders beaten and four clean breaks. The statistic that Steve Hansen may be most pleased about was one with a zero – he had no missed tackles in the game and was quite sensational under the high ball at times. With David Havili’s impressive debut also catching the eye, the All Blacks’ depth at fullback is astounding. Here’s a quick list of Steve Hansen’s tasty no.15 menu:
1. Ben Smith 2. Damian McKenzie 3. Jordie Barrett 4. David Havili 5. Beauden Barrett, Israel Dagg and Nehe Milner-Scudder can also switch to fullback if required.
Is SBW over the hill?
On this strong performance, you would have to say: no. SBW was a monster on defence, winning some important turnovers and stopping the powerful Puma midfielders with his brutal tackling. The trouble is, these sound like compliments for a loose forward rather than a midfielder. SBW’s running game is the area he needs to come to life – making just seven metres from eight runs. I get the feeling that one clean break is all it will take for the high-performing SBW of old to emerge.
Do Argentina need a new coach?
The 2017 Rugby Championship represents a step backwards for the 2015 World Cup semi-finalists. They are now behind Fiji in the world rankings and are on a 10 test losing streak with their last win being against Georgia. Puma coach Daniel Hourcade must be feeling the pressure as his group of experienced players do not seem to put together an 80-minute performance.
Hourcade may point to his missing European-based stars Juan Imhoff and Facundo Isa as missing ingredients, but when you can bring on such quality players as Martin Landajo and Santiago Cordero off the bench, fingers must be pointed at the coaching box not at player depth. Certainly, the negative kicking tactics employed in the second half by replacement flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez showed a coach short of ideas and confidence.