They’ll be singing their hearts out at the alluringly-named Estadio Jose Amalfitani this weekend, because that is what Argentinian rugby fans do, writes Sports writer for the NZHerald
There should actually be a chorus of protest though when the world’s best team runs out at the 50,000-capacity stadium in Buenos Aires, because it won’t be the world’s best team at all.
Buenos Aires is being served All Blacks Lite with important players saved by Steve Hansen for the following match against the Springboks, who will lie in wait at Cape Town having laid down completely at Albany.
All Black rugby’s amazing tall timber, the locking greats Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, are among the absentees leaving the stockier Luke Romano – recently revealed as some sort of lineout doctor – and a couple of cut-down cohorts to take charge.
There’s very little to criticise the amazing All Blacks over these days. New Zealand Rugby’s system of central control and development, allied to exceptional coaching and a wondrous player talent pool, has produced a team capable of wiping opponents out like basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters do.
But apart from the influence of history and tradition, it’s hard to work out why Argentina have drawn the short locks because this month’s results indicate the All Blacks are insulting the wrong team.
The Pumas put up a damned fine effort in New Plymouth, a 17-point margin rating as a narrow squeak for these All Blacks.
In some ways, the game was tougher than that, the Pumas leading at halftime and taking the All Blacks to their limits for nearly an hour before a rampaging Vaea Fifita ripped their heart out.
On the other hand, the try tally was six against one.
But it was a real-deal test, unlike the disgraceful shambles a week later, when the Springboks capitulated by 57-0 and were so bad that some honestly believe the All Blacks should have scored more than eight tries.
Exhibit B in this argument is the wee matter of a test in Durban last year, won by the All Blacks 57-15. In comparison, the Pumas provided much stiffer opposition in Buenos Aires, when their scrum helped put the second half brakes on the All Blacks.
Hansen and co. are taking a surprising risk with their selection for Argentina, to my mind, especially when you recall what happened when they played without their great locks against Ireland in Chicago not all that long ago.
Maybe, but only maybe, this bravado is to be admired and it quickens the pulse in anticipation.
The payoff, in terms of building World Cup players steeled for any type of situation and finding out the flakes, is huge.
And the World Cup has come to mean just about everything to the major rugby nations. To some of us though, this dumbing down of test rugby still feels very wrong.
Yet there was barely a squeak in protest from the public when Retallick, Whitelock, Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett (initially), Liam Squire and Ryan Crotty were excused from the Pumas match.
No one really saw this coming, yet no one complained once it had.
Times have moved on, our views apparently twisted and softened by these newfangled selection policies, spin and most importantly results.
Endless All Black victories involving an avalanche of tries have apparently made the argument about rest and rotation passe, yet the British and Irish Lions exposed weaknesses, the All Blacks admit they are experimenting with tactics, and they are going into a scrummaging lion’s den armed with a potential pussycat.
While it has virtually been outlawed to suggest an All Black plays badly anymore, newbie prop Kane Hames had a shocker against the ‘Boks.
The most experienced loosehead Wyatt Crockett isn’t a safe scrum bet either, and the both-sides option Ofa Tu’ungafasi is a bench specialist and unknown starting quantity. The tall test rookie Jeffery Toomaga Allen has also had his scrum difficulties.
With Owen Franks and the outstanding Joe Moody off the scene, that leaves the seven-test Nepo Laulala as the main pillar of scrum strength.
With the engine room of Retallick and Whitelock zooming off to Cape Town, and the strongman flanker Sam Cane joining them, the normally ambitious Pumas of today might decide to turn the clock back and engineer a scrum-fest if possible.
Test matches should still be about trench warfare in the name of victory, if the time is right, rather than happy-clappy World Cup prep.
There is the other prospect of course, that the new-look All Blacks pack will fly through the assignment.
In the name of real test rugby, and giving the Pumas the respect they deserve in future, I’m hoping their pack gives the All Blacks a good going over whatever the end result.