All Blacks v Argentina II
Well, I was fearing another shit game to fit with the one good game- two bad games pattern, but tonight was impressive across the park. Putting the score to one side, it was an 80-minute performance and not a mix of superb and shite we’ve seen in the recent past.
There were two key points in the game for me which stood out. Cane taking the penalty to go up 27-3 when Argentine were gaining momentum rather than go for the corner and score a try. That showed a much calmer and ruthless mindset. The second was when we were under the pump with a YC, giving away penalties and Argentina looked certain to score. Not only did we keep them out, we showed the confidence, patience and control to set up a counter-attack for an end-end try. In other games they would have either scored or we’d have screwed up the counter-attack and the doubts would have crept in.
Won’t comment on technicalities (I’ll leave that to others with way more knowledge than I have) but there was so much to like about that performance. Combinations seemed to click, players stepped up with individual skill and the precision on a wet park was impressive. The forwards really got stuck in and the front row continues to impress - apart from 1-2 mistakes from Bower and Newell they impressed all game. Coles added something new when he came on and I loved his mongrel and getting in the Argentinian’s heads. Slamming Sami is the real deal, the complete package and it’s hard to spot a single part of his game which isn’t world-class.
The 6/7/8 combination went really, really well and caused all sorts of problems for Argentina. Ardie was the usual awesome Ardie (just how quick is the bloke?), Sam Cane had some outstanding defence and his link play was exceptional (see JB’s try). He’s not the player he was a year or two ago, but offers a great all round game and his captaincy tonight, considering the pressure the team was under, was bloody good. I had to really look for Frizzell as he was buried in the thick of everything as was Scooter & Sam Whitelock and perhaps their work was the key difference.
Aaron Smith was a workman-like Smith at 9 (which means pretty damn good) and his kicking game was improved and Mo’unga looked confident and relaxed from the off - the yips from last week had vanished and he had a very good game.
But the biggest ups were in the midfield where I though Havili was outstanding - nothing too flash, but his link work, kicking, defence, positioning and interplay with Ritchie & Reiko were consistently good. He seemed to ooze confidence and stability. Reiko is just getting better and better: directing traffic and defence and passing or using his pace at exactly the right time. His breakout from the 22 and the way he held the ball up for Christie to keep the movement going was sublime.
The back 3 worries me - needs lots more work and looks to be a bit disjointed at times on attack. Jordie seems to have lost his mojo a touch, but keep him there as he’s rock solid in defence. Ditto Will Jordan - things don’t seem to be going his way but we should stick with him as he’ll come right. I can’t make my mind up about Caleb Clarke as he adds punch but just seems to lack a bit of finesse - perhaps it’s time to give Sevu Reece a start. They were all pretty solid on defence.
I thought the Ref was great, let the game flow and managed the players well. He seemed almost invisible at times which is what you want to see - liked the way he used the TMO and minimised any impact on the game. And thank fuck there weren’t any stupid cards from high tackles to influence the game.
All in all, a pretty complete performance compared to recent games regardless of the competition, even compared to Ellis Park. AB seemed more relaxed and actually enjoying themselves tonight and the small things went well tonight - need to keep that up. Big question is: can they?