Forget Pumas’ victory over the All Blacks, their greatest triumph was against the Springboks in Mendoza
CAPE TOWN - The rugby world labelled it one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game when the Pumas beat the All Blacks for the first time. But it wasn’t.
Sure, it was a famous and beautiful win, but there have been better Pumas victories, with the most obvious the Pumas triumph against the world champion Springboks in Mendoza in 2018.
Back then the Pumas were given their due. The Springboks were pasted for being shocking and the season's earlier home series win against England was labelled a false dawn.
When I spoke to Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus the day after the 32-19 defeat, he acknowledged the result was not acceptable but he asked me to try and look at the game as an observer and credit the Pumas for an unrivalled opening 45 minutes, when the hosts led 32-7. He also said I needed to revisit the game visually and do an assessment of Australian referee Angus Gardener, who traditionally allows the Pumas carte blanche at the rucks and rarely punishes their ill-discipline. Erasmus had a point on both counts, but there was no denying the best team on the day won.
Fast forward to Sydney a week ago and the best team also won, but who did they beat? They beat an All Blacks team that currently can’t be compared in quality to Richie McCaw’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup winners. The men in black in Sydney were a pale imitation of McCaw’s mighty gladiators, who dominated international rugby for a decade.
The Pumas have always produced the occasional monster match, but never quite got it right against very good All Black teams. This time they got it right against one of the more ordinary All Black packs. World rugby’s followers reacted as it did because it is the All Blacks, but the quality of the All Blacks team beaten by Argentina doesn’t compare to that of the Springboks in Mendoza. Currently, not one of the All Blacks pack would make the Springboks starting pack.
The Pumas, who won in Mendoza
in 2018, beat a Springboks team that included 11 of the run-on World Cup-winning final XV and 16 of the match-day 23. In hindsight, that is some victory for the Argentinians.
The very same Boks, a fortnight later, would beat the All Blacks 36-34 in Wellington and lead the All Blacks 30-13 on the hour in Pretoria before losing 32-30. The two teams would draw 16-all the following year.
The Pumas, prior to beating the All Blacks a week ago, had won three from
36 against Tier One teams and four from 35 in the Rugby Championship. However, the closest they had come to beating the All Blacks was a 21-all draw in Buenos Aires in 1985, when iconic flyhalf Hugo Porta scored all 21 points.
The victory against the All Blacks was significant because it was Argentina’s first in 30 Test starts against the Kiwis, but for me the biggest win for the Pumas was the win in Mendoza because they beat a team that a year later would be the world champions.