Greetings from Buenos Aires!
Apologies for the lateness of my post for this week, but Monday was taken up with the usual chaos with packing and leaving ahead of a journey that took 23 hours. For some reason we ended up flying to Argentina via Sydney….it is not a great feeling when, nine hours after leaving New Zealand you find yourself flying back over it again, with another 11 hours ahead of you!!!
But here we are, finally, in this fantastic city and looking forward with great anticipation to a weekend that will either see the Rugby Championship decided in the All Blacks' favour….or the winner of the Pretoria test be given a lifeline.
The Pumas have been unlucky not to have won a game so far. After being well beaten first up by the Boks they might have snatched a win a week later in Mendoza had referee Steve Walsh not given them benefit of the doubt over a collapsed maul in the Springbok red zone.
They might have beaten the All Blacks in Wellington were it not for a yellow card when again they didn’t get the benefit of doubt, and a bad attack of fatigue in the dying stanza.
And they certainly should have beaten the Wallabies last time out for reasons spelt out in my column of last week.
So now they return home looking for their first ever win over the All Blacks and their first in the Championship.
We are staying at the same hotel as the ABs and while they appear pretty relaxed (which is how the management always tries to get them feeling) they know how much of a threat the Pumas can be on their home patch.
The players seem quite excited about being somewhere “different” at this time of year, but well aware of how well the Pumas are performing, and acutely aware of how difficult very good New Zealand sides have found it to win here in the past.
The last two times in Buenos Aires the All Blacks have escaped with last-gasp victories and in 1985 they were held to a draw. Aside from the obvious issue of trying to win a test match, there are some huge motivating factors for the All Blacks.
One is the knowledge that they can wrap up the series with a win at La Plata Stadium and take a lot of pressure off ahead of their return clash with the Springboks in Soweto, which I suspect will be very hard to win either way.
Secondly, they are starting to eye the record they share with South Africa for the most consecutive test wins. They are up to 14, and know they could set a new mark by year-end if they can win their last two Rugby Championship tests.
And the other is the constant niggling reminder that no All Black team has ever lost to Argentina….they will be driven by the fear of being the first to do so.
Add to that the return of Dan Carter and it should be enough to get them over the line…he was the single biggest difference between the two sides when the last met here six years ago.
But the Pumas are a proud lot, fiercely determined to prove their worth in the rarefied altitude of competition with the world’s top three teams, and this shapes as a massive test match.
The Pumas would stand an even greater chance if they’d chosen to play the game “up country” in front of a rugby mad crowd in Tucuman, Rosario or Mendoza.
Instead they have opted for Buenos Aires…or to be accurate La Plata which is just a short drive east of the city.
They have done so because they can make more money from the 51 000 capacity stadium, and I understand also because of a bit of pressure from “on high” to try and grow rugby in the soccer mad capital….and the All Blacks are a pretty good drawcard to help with that.
I just hope they don’t play every All Black-Argentina test in BA…although there is a definite trend developing.
The ARU has twice done deals for Bledisloe Cup tests to be played over an extended number of years at the hulking, but distant Sydney Olympic Stadium, Eden Park seemingly has a mortgage on Bledisloe Cup tests in New Zealand, and I understand that Saru are considering playing all All Black-Springbok tests for the foreseeable future in Soweto, with the likes of Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria getting some sort of “cut” of the profits generated by having such massive crowds on an annual basis.
It may not happen, but I understand it has been discussed. If it does become reality it would be a nice consolation for Joburg fans who have lost their Super Rugby franchise, but a kick in the guts for the rugby-loving people of the Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and so on….and I also have selfish reasons for hoping that isn’t the reality….I love going to Durbs and Cape Town!!!
Finally I see Heyneke Meyer has installed Johan Goosen at flyhalf for this weekend’s test at Loftus.
I would have picked the Boks to win anyway…the Wallabies are depleted by injury and subject to all sorts of speculation about things inside the camp after Quade Cooper's latest Twitter-fest.
But the Boks should be too strong. Goosen is the future and the future starts now.