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International

Historic All Blacks Loss to Argentina a Tale of Two Coaches

November 15, 2020

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Argentina's historic 25-15 win over New Zealand in a Tri-Nations rugby test in Sydney has become a tale of two coaches.

Victorious coach Mario Ledesma suggested someone likely will write a book to record how a Pumas team which hadn't played a match in more than 13 months, which had battled a COVID outbreak in its own ranks and comes from a nation ravaged by the virus, managed for the first time to topple the three-time world champions.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster, in contrast, has been left fighting for his job after New Zealand suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in nine years after losing only a week earlier to Australia. The All Blacks have won two, lost two and drawn one match since Foster took charge in December, a poor record for a team which has maintained a winning rate in excess of 80% over 115 years.

 Foster was an unpopular appointment when he was named to succeed Steve Hansen, who guided New Zealand to victory at the 2015 World Cup. He was seen, as a former assistant to Hansen, to be next in a line of succession but was not regarded as the best candidate.

A further loss to Argentina when the teams meet again on Nov. 28 would almost certainly doom Foster's coaching reign.

It wasn't only the fact of the New Zealand loss but the nature of it which has left Foster's career hanging by a thread. The All Blacks were entirely outplayed by the 10th-ranked Pumas, who didn't miss a tackle while New Zealand made only one line break in the match.

Argentina played with resolve and composure while New Zealand lost its composure along with its discipline and sense of common purpose.

"We're hurting greatly," Foster said. "That was a frustrating response to a similar game last week. It's the second week in a row where we haven't had good composure when things haven't quite gone our way. Again we got rattled."

Foster inherited problems which have been apparent for many years but which have increased on his watch. The New Zealand forward pack has unable to physically match top-line opponents for several years or to cope with teams which produce line speed on defense.

Those shortcomings were especially obvious during the 2017 series against the British and Irish Lions and again when the All Blacks were crushed by England in a semifinal of last year's World Cup.

Argentina on Saturday again won the physical battle between the forward packs, led by its outstanding captain Pablo Matera who, after being manhandled by an All Blacks player early in the match angrily told the referee "they should show respect. I'm playing for my country."

The Pumas played for a country which has lost 35,000 people to the coronavirus. The All Blacks showed little willingness to play for their country or the legacy inherent in their jersey.

 Ledesma had few worries after the match, other than to curb his team's celebrations which were long and emotional.

"I think (New Zealand) is the only team we haven't beaten so for us I think we'll remember this for a long time coming," he said. "Not only because of the game but the special situation that got us to the game.

"I guess someone will write a book about it. Just playing that game was surreal for us, just sitting down and watching the boys get on the field after everything that has happened to us this year back in Argentina.

"Just being out there and playing like they did. I would have said the same thing even if we lost. I would have been disappointed but as proud as I am right now."

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