One of the most alarming admissions from the All Blacks following their first defeat to the Pumas is they didn’t match the Argentines’ passion.
Confirmation from All Blacks captain Sam Cane was not needed post-match – it was evident throughout the 25-15 defeat that the Pumas wanted their maiden victory more, yet the statement still turned heads, particularly for former All Blacks among the commentary team.
Whenever the ball hit the deck, the Pumas scrambled for it first. Whenever there was contestable ball at the breakdown, invariably the Pumas had more numbers and hunger to win it. Over the course of 80 minutes, these attitude elements add up.
Passion comes in many forms. For the Pumas, it was derived from months of struggle and sacrifice.
During six months of isolation in Argentina hooker Santiago Socino had his father stand on the roof to practise his lineout throwing. Playmaker Nicolas Sanchez ran 21km in his living room; halfback Tomas Cubelli repeatedly passed the ball against his garage wall, lock Lucas Paulos jumped in his front yard and sent videos to the coaches for lineout feedback.
Many Pumas players have not seen their families in over four months – such were the extensive measures needed to separate the team from the public. Loose forward Rodrigo Bruni has had 16 Covid-19 swap tests.
Pumas captain Pablo Matera, when scolded by referee Angus Gardner for an early flare up, proclaimed he would not be disrespected and that he “plays for his country”.
The look in Matera’s eyes when he faced the haka, won turnovers and tackled his heart out spoke volumes of the passion the Pumas, to a man, harnessed.
That desire, the deep connection to their country and those they seek to represent, cannot be faked. It is genuine, and it comes from within.
Similar deep-rooted passion for the cause was cultivated at the Chiefs under Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith when they guided the team to their first Super Rugby titles in 2012 and ’13 by connecting with Māori culture and the local area.
The Pumas spoke about honouring their jersey. They did that and much, much more.
Extreme emotions in collision sports are not always beneficial. Red mist can cloud judgment and this then leads to moments of madness. Just ask Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini about his red card 18 minutes into Argentina’s 39-10 loss to England at last year’s World Cup.
In this case, though, drawing on the sacrifice they endured and the chance to make their country proud clearly inspired the Pumas to their historic success.
On the flipside, the All Blacks’ inability to match the Pumas’ passion is inexcusable.
Perhaps they bought into the narrative, as many outside the team did, too, that a side which last played a test 402 days ago would be severely underdone.
Maybe the All Blacks turned up expecting to run over the Pumas in the final quarter as they did many times in their previous 29 meetings.
Outside the ill-discipline issues and predictable attack the plagued the loss, subconscious complacency is one possible explanation for why the All Blacks did not respond from defeat to the Wallabies the previous week as expected.
The performance at Bankwest Satdium was poles apart from the response seen at Eden Park following the opening draw against the Wallabies in Wellington – even more removed from two weeks ago in the record Sydney victory which appears to have inflated a sense of where this team sits.
“We’re going to work through that puzzle ourselves,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster said when probed about why the team did not respond from the Brisbane loss. “It’s easy to respond physically. When you don’t take and don’t see opportunities then sometimes it can narrow your game down.”
So much of the All Blacks’ ethos is based around the team’s legacy – adding to the jersey and upholding its history. Yet defeat to the Pumas delivered a wake-up call in regards to the passion, want and desire test rugby requires for each and every moment in the area.
For all the tactical flaws that will be tackled the mental aspect of potentially taking the All Blacks jersey for granted must be addressed too.
In 11 days, when the All Blacks get the chance to respond from successive losses for the first time in nine years, as much as anything else they must prove they care deeply about the jersey and everything it stands to represent.
Senior members of the team need to take ownership and spell out exactly what is required.
If any additional inspiration is needed, glancing into Mantra’s eyes is a good place to start
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