NZLvARG – Rugby by the Numbers

NZLvARG was a much tougher game than most assumed. By the numbers, Argentina found parity in New Plymouth before the All Blacks finished off the match 39-22

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The Rugby Championship clash in New Plymouth was a solid game. Not as exciting as the climactic finish to NZLvAUS last month, but last nights NZLvARG match was an ideal example of ‘rugby by the numbers’.

Statistics show that the four quarters of the game were each different. From an early advantage from the Argentinian side, for the All Blacks to bounce back. Then the third quarter was owned by Los Pumas, before New Zealand brought smiles to the fans faces.

The score actually flattered the hosts. Some will glance at the 39-22 spread and say ‘All Blacks trounced them”. But that would not show the effort from the Argentine men. They had chances, took some but were a little hamstrung by conditions and a much more polished New Zealand team.

So in assessing the victory–watch the featured video highlights above–it will show that the visitors had opportunity, but made poor decisions. They are not the attacking side who can convert overlaps or territory. At times, their hands and their heads let them down. And Daniel Hourcade, frustrated that he could not be the coach to beat the All Blacks, will rue the poor decision making.

NZLvARG – Rugby by the Numbers

17 points in kicks by Los Pumas was not the winning of the game, but it showed a quality lacking from the All Blacks. This was supported by high kick, and one cheeky drop kick [when in advantage] and a successful le drop from Sanchez.

New Zealand kicking 50%; 4/8 | Argentina 75%; 6/8 including 1/2 dropkicks

Would New Zealand have been in front by more points, if Beauden Barrett had converted more early opportunities? Yes, as they might have found the Pumas having to ‘fight the scoreboard’. That internal pressure may have seen them act differently. Whereas leading by a point at halftime after Nicolas Sanchez crossed the All Blacks line, Argentina held the lead until Damian McKenzie scored after 62 minutes.

Should McKenzie had taken over the kicking earlier? Yes. That is not ambushing Barrett’s role, but it is the intelligent option. McKenzie is consistent, as is Lima Sopoaga. When he entered the game, the kicking was finally an option. Barrett had an off night, but even if he did kick 5/5 in Dunedin, after three missed kicks, Kieran Read had the responsibility to point to McKenzie early during NZLvARG.

The Stats: Argentina Win Turnovers and Compete at the Breakdown

  • Turnovers conceded: All Blacks 23 Argentina 15
  • Turnovers won: All Blacks 7 Argentina 9
  • Rucks lost: All Blacks 5 Argentina 1
  • Rucks won: All Blacks 95.2% Argentina 98.7%

New Zealand Continue Dominance at Setpiece

  • Lineouts won: All Blacks 88.9% Argentina 66.7%
  • Lineouts lost: All Blacks 1 Argentina 2
  • Scrums won: All Blacks 100% Argentina 87.5%
Note: the All Blacks have now won 100% of their own scrums, in their last 40 set pieces

New Zealand Rack Up Meters on Attack

  • Meters run: All Blacks 607 Argentina 213
Note: the All Blacks have gained an average of 595m per game this tournament, more than 100m more than any other team in the competition
  • Players: Vaea Fifita 113, Nehe Milner-Skudder 75, Agustin Creevy 57, Kieran Read 51
  • Carries: All Blacks 139 Argentina 96
  • Defenders beaten: All Blacks 41 Argentina 16
  • Clean breaks: All Blacks 11 Argentina 2
  • Offloads: All Blacks 13 Argentina 4

NZLvARG Player of the Match – Vaea Fifita

After impressing in 2016, the young, tall flanker has followed that up and was rewarded in New Plymouth. He has earned praise from Chris Boyd at the Hurricanes and that see’s him with his first start, and second test. And with the All Blacks under pressure early; Argentina had 100% territory up to the sixth minute. And then Fifita was handed the ball. Boom! The movement ended with Milner-Skudder scoring his comeback try.

Fifita is in the same mold as a young Jerome Kaino. Long limbed, he played his part in the lineout but showed that out wide, he was lethal. The player received a ball on the Pumas 40 meter line. Fifita then out paced the Pumas right winger, and blasted toward the line. Superb pace from a back row forward.

New Zealand Use the Ball Wisely

  • Offloads: All Blacks 9 Argentina 2
  • Defenders beaten: All Blacks 41 Argentina 16
  • Passes: All Blacks 182 Argentina 110
  • Kicks from hand: All Blacks 25 Argentina 25

In the attack, open play ball was more in line with Super Rugby. The attack was instant, but with more dropped ball than should be expected in a test match. That could be down to the Pumas knowing that they were less favoured, so chanced their arm.

One decision counted badly against the visitors. When Barrett was handed his fourth yellow card in 2017 [a new record possibly] the choice was to attack; or take the points. Sanchez kicked three points, but that was their only reward. With the extra man, Argentina did not opt for a scrum. Possibly because they were not as dominant here, and like at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they took little away from New Zealand having a man in the bin.

It cost them. Mistakes also compounded, and it cost them late in the game where the All Blacks are most dangerous. How many times have the World Champions shown, that they respond best when under pressure.

What the Statistics Do Not Say? NZLvARG

Argentina put much on the line. They were aggressive, determined and in the third quarter they ruled. If they had scored a try, this game would have been significantly different.

But after 60 minutes, and as occurs so often, the All Blacks increased the tempo and went up a level. The territory advantage that the Pumas had in the opening 10 minutes, was similar to what the home side had in the final 15 minutes.

The All Blacks brought composure and patience. Things that do not show up on the metrics table: wisdom and experience. It paid not to push things too hard, as conditions did not allow for expert handling. Kieran Read chose the lineout, scrums and when Lima Sopoaga arrived, his call was to kick the penalty. Read said post-game;

“Certainly had to work for that. Some trying times in the second half, and to come out of it [with a win], really proud.”

And the place kicking by New Zealand built it’s own pressure early. At 15-16, Barrett had lost six points to the side of the posts. It was not acceptable for an International first-five, but the team were patient and when tested, showed ‘cool heads’.

So overall, the composure of the All Blacks is still their key winning advantage.

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NZLvARG Statitics provided by OPTA Stats.

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