Argentina’s World Cup hopes crushed beneath frightening display of New Zealand’s strength

Argentina 6-44 New Zealand: The All Blacks were at their physical best in a one-sided semi-final and a tilt at a record fourth World Cup crown awaits

Harry Latham-Coyle
at the Stade de France
Friday 20 October 2023 23:05 BST
The Pumas were thrashed in Paris
The Pumas were thrashed in Paris (AFP via Getty Images)

Rugby beauty comes in many forms – as New Zealand showed against Argentina. Perhaps it is Will Jordan that takes your fancy, his 31 tries in 30 Tests rugby’s equivalent of the golden ratio. Perhaps you are entranced by Mark Tele’a, sinewy and sinuous, gliding in and out of contact like an electric eel. Or could it be Richie Mo’unga and his teasing grin, most often flashed at a grasping Argentine after a coquettish click of the heels on a night where the fly half seemed to step into space at will.

But it was the All Blacks’ muscle-men and their rugged charm that laid the foundations for the decorative touches elsewhere. And to think New Zealand had entered this tournament with questions about their ability to assert themselves up front; this was a frightening display of forward strength, leaving Argentina’s Rugby World Cup dreams buried beneath the black mass.

The Pumas had arrived in Paris with the most lineout drive metres per match of any team at the tournament – the tight tussles are meant to be their strength. In Marcos Kremer and Juan Martin Gonzalez, they had two long-limbed flankers, ready to aid their second rowers in getting up in the air.

The good news is that Argentina fared better than New Zealand’s other opponents at this World Cup. Before tonight, New Zealand’s hookers had missed just a single lineout throw all tournament; they twice failed to find their intended recipient in the semi-final.

The intention was to pull the platform from beneath the All Blacks, a conscious decision made to avoid giving New Zealand lineout ball with which to work: just one of Argentina’s ten first-half kicks was directed for touch.

Veteran lock Sam Whitelock helped lay the foundations for New Zealand’s win (Getty Images)

It mattered not. With the Pumas struggling for discipline and the whistle of referee Angus Gardner providing much of the soundtrack amidst an absence of atmosphere in a one-sided contest, New Zealand could punt for the sidelines at their leisure.

The intent was set from the All Blacks’ first mauling opportunity, a locomotive that chugged out of the station despite Argentina’s desperate attempts to halt it. Gardner whistled, and New Zealand marched on, their forwards next punching their tickets down in Argentina’s 22.

Same plan, same result, the Pumas infringing as New Zealand drove again. Gardner called Montoya over for a dressing down, pointing out five penalisable offences in two maul movements. Already Argentina had been warned.

In piled Puma paws, swiping at the buried ball and managing to halt the drive. But that only left space elsewhere, Jordan all alone in open pasture for the gentlest of trots to the line. The wing would add two more tries, drawing him level with Bryan Habana, Julian Savea and Jonah Lomu on a record eight scores at a single men’s World Cup – illustrious company.

Will Jordan scored a hat-trick at the Stade de France (Getty Images)

Credit must go to Jason Ryan, the All Blacks’ unheralded assistant coach, plucked from the Crusaders a year and a half ago. The arrival of former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt last summer was much trumpeted, the attacking schemer oft mentioned as a reason behind New Zealand’s resurgence, but Ryan, who arrived at the same time, has been just as crucial. Their heavy metal mauling with the ball is matched by defensive set-piece steel without it.

It must also be said that Ryan is working with the right raw materials. Brodie Retallick watched much of this game perched on the pine, happy to let old chum Sam Whitelock stoke the engine room coals alongside Scott Barrett. As a locking triumvirate, there have surely been none better; this was a parade of puissance, with the scrum also in outstanding working order.

“A lot of credit must go to the forward pack,” said captain Sam Cane. “We wanted to scrummage well, we wanted to drive well. We made the most of the opportunities we had. I’m really pleased with the work we put in to get that.”

Four years ago at this stage, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster’s predecessor as head coach, made an error. Fearing England’s lineout threat, he installed Barrett on the blindside ahead of the semi-final, reshaping the back row. The many moving pieces jarred against one another, the lock-slash-six an early sacrifice on a night where England brought the All Blacks crashing down.

New Zealand’s scrum also proved effective (AFP via Getty Images)

Barrett has since kicked on, now top dog in a second-row room that contains two all-time greats. The trio are tireless draft horses but have a few dressage flicks and tricks, too. Whitelock’s deft pull-back pass at the line was a vital component in New Zealand’s first two ornately-constructed scores; the bulkiest Barrett brother joined his siblings in a couple of open-field gallops.

Retallick arrived on the hour, one centurion replacing another as Whitelock took leave. Barrett departed five minutes after, unable to resist a dip in the cookie jar from a supine position, a cynical intervention rightly drawing a card. It was about the only blot on a night of All Black might, with New Zealand even opting to leave Barrett off and play the final five minutes with 14 men in another show of superiority. A tilt at a record fourth men’s World Cup crown awaits.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in