All Blacks on cusp of clinching Tri Nations title

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As a result of their 38-0 win over Argentina in Newcastle on Saturday, the All Blacks have left either Australia or Argentina requiring a massive win to claim the prize.

 

The All Blacks currently sit atop the standings on 11 points with Argentina and Australia both on 6 points with just one game to play.

 

Given the All Blacks have a positive balance of 64 points compared to minus 28 for Argentina and minus 36 for Australia, it will take a bonus point victory of 93 points or more for Argentina to lift the title and 101 points or more for Australia to claim the crown.

 

But the All Blacks' recovery from consecutive losses to Australia and Argentina had ensured the team could feel more comfortable as they prepare for a 2021 season that is still uncertain.

 

Coach Ian Foster said after the win: "I feel for Argentina, they have been over here a long time with the commitment they've shown.

 

"A fortnight ago, we'd just played our fifth Test in six weeks, and it was tough. You saw Argentina play their third Test in three weeks and it's tough. There's been a lot of challenges for all the teams."

While the loss to Argentina, and the earlier loss to Australia had hurt the side, they had a chance to turn that around by showing they could play and were developing in the midst of it all.

 

"We've got a bit more to go, we're clear about that, but it's a better way to finish," he said.

 

The All Blacks respected Argentina and the way they played and defended.

 

"We hammered away, played a lot of rugby against them, and had a bit of variety with our kicking game.

 

"We perhaps could have taken a few more opportunities in that first half, but we didn't lose our way and we didn't get frustrated, and we were clinical in keeping going back to areas we felt we were getting them.

 

"We made them make a lot of tackles, broke them down and reaped the rewards, particularly when our bench came on, which brought a heck of a lot of energy and picked up a few plums, particularly from our defensive pressure," he said.

 

Keeping the big Argentina pack moving, while also keeping their defenders guessing, required the All Blacks' decision-making to be a lot more clinical.

Foster also felt captain Sam Cane had stepped up.

 

"The nicest thing I can say is he did exactly what I expected of him. It's not the easiest job in the world – particularly when the knives come out, and the pressure comes on, it's easy to doubt yourself, but I didn't see any of that.

 

"I saw someone who believes. The group had a firm belief in what we're doing and he led that," he said.

 

Foster also acknowledged the advance blindside flanker Akira Ioane had made in his game.

 

"For the last two or three years, we've seen an athlete grow. He's adapted really quickly to what Test matches are all about. He wants to be physical, and wants to be tough. And he did it in the right way.

 

"Under [assistant coach John] Plumtree's guidance, he's starting to enjoy the set-piece side of life. It hasn't been his passion but he's improving there. Now he's had a taste of it, and knows he can play well at this level, there's a big opportunity for him," he said.

 

Captain Sam Cane said the team made a conscious decision not to be distracted by any niggle along the lines of what happened in their last outing with Argentina.

 

"It probably helped us as a team to focus on our job and the next task at hand," he said.

 

Cane also paid tribute to his leadership team. They had come through a lot together through the years and they were embracing the challenge ahead of the side under new management and with the introduction of new players.

Plumtree said there had been intentional emphasis to concentrate on their scrum in preparation and scrum coach Greg Feek had worked hard with the front row to develop the plan that proved so effective in the game.

 

"It was good to see the boys apply pressure through the set-piece and that certainly helped tonight's win," he said.

 

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma said they were unable to capitalise on the possession they had.

 

"We kept losing our ball, we weren't clinical in our lineout or our scrum. We couldn't have a solid platform to play from," he said.

 

Captain Pablo Matera said the third Test in three weeks was not an excuse for the loss.

 

"It is difficult to play when you have two phases and lose the ball. This is a pressure game and you have to put a lot of pressure on the other team. When you have opportunities and you have good ball and you are going forward, with our ball and we were going forward, but there were too many handling errors," he said.

 

Their defence was not as bad as the score suggested, they had not been clinical enough, he said.

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