Argentina served up one of the biggest upsets in test rugby history when they stunned New Zealand 25-15 in the Tri-Nations on Saturday, beating the three-times world champions for the first time in 30 attempts going back 35 years.
An inspired Nicolás Sánchez scored all of Argentina’s points with a try, six penalties and a conversion, and the Pumas held off a fierce late onslaught from the All Blacks to secure a famous victory in their first test for more than a year.
The Argentines were given almost no chance of registering a victory in their tournament opener after being kept off the pitch, mostly in quarantined environments, for almost the entire season by the global health crisis.
The Western Sydney Stadium was a most unlikely venue for their first win over the All Blacks but the ecstatic Pumas players gathered in front of a small band of their compatriots at the final whistle and celebrated with song and dance.
“They just showed themselves as they are, the players are like that and Argentinian people are like that,” said coach Mario Ledesma.
“I think for a long time we were copying what other people were doing, but we’re different, just different, really proud of being different.
“This is really special for us.”
Outhalf Sánchez was a clear Man of the Match but it was a team effort as the Pumas tackled like demons, rucked like bulls and ran the ball with confidence throughout the 80 minutes in front of 9,063 fans enjoying the late afternoon Sydney sun.
The All Blacks had been looking to impose themselves on the competition after losing 24-22 to Australia last week in Brisbane, but instead fell to back-to-back test defeats for the first time since August 2011.
Captain Sam Cane finally forced his way over the Argentina line in the 53rd minute and winger Caleb Clarke followed after the hooter but it was too little, too late for the All Blacks.
“It was very tough, full credit to Argentina, they came out with more intent than we did and they thoroughly deserved their victory tonight,” said All Blacks captain Sam Cane
“They just kept coming ...”
Twice World Cup semi-finalists, Argentina have come close to beating New Zealand before. Even when they led 19-3 just after halftime, it only raised expectations of yet another great escape from the All Blacks.
Sánchez had scored his team’s only try after 19 minutes, getting a kindly bounce off his own chip kick before gathering to touch down as the referee was playing advantage after yet more ill-discipline from the All Blacks.
There was plenty of niggle and aggression from the Pumas as well but they kept their discipline when it counted and more importantly made remarkably few errors for a team with so little match practice.
Sánchez punished the All Blacks for their transgressions ruthlessly from the kicking tee, his final penalty from 50 metres three minutes from time taking the lead out to 15 points and leaving New Zealand needing a miracle.
"They challenged us on our composure and it's probably two weeks we haven't handled that very well," said New Zealand coach Ian Foster, who has now overseen only two wins in his first five matches in charge.
“They came here with massive energy, and probably a massive desire to prove something for their country who have gone through a heck of a hard time.”
New Zealand remain top of the standings with six points ahead of Australia and Argentina, who both have four, but that mattered not a jot to the Pumas after they finally completed the full set of wins over the top tier rugby nations.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Ledesma added. “Just even playing that game after everything that has happened for Argentina this year.
“I think we’ll remember this for a long time ... I guess somebody will write a book about it.”