New Zealand’s All Blacks have held off Argentina’s Pumas in what was far from a perfect win in the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks came from behind to win 26-16 in front of the biggest crowd in World Cup history. The All Blacks trailed until the 56th minute, with many wondering if another World Cup upset like Japan’s win over the Springboks might be on the cards.
The first half of the opening of New Zealand’s World Cup defense was frustrating for the All Blacks, with McCaw and Milner-Skudder both fumbling opportunities and both McCaw and Smith being yellow carded. While New Zealand led early on with three successful penalty kicks by flyhalf Dan Carter, Argentina came back with a forceful try by Petti in the 21st minute, and another exchange of penalties had them leading 13-12 at half time. It is fair to say that the first half, and probably the match, were carried on the magic of Dan Carter’s boot.
Argentina, whose fans, according to The Sydney Morning Herald outnumbered All Blacks supporters, impressed all through the first half with dogged, well read defense. Argentina’s World Cup record has shown a steady trajectory of improvement, and their prescient, aggressive play has made them one to watch for this tournament. By the second half, New Zealand was playing with familiar aggression and fluidity, and in the end they prevailed 26-16.
Captain Richie McCaw acknowledged that they were off to a shaky start, and would need to improve to hold on to their World Cup crown.
“I guess that’s what you expect first up. I thought that second half was a lot more clinical… We’ll have to make a few improvements but that’s the nature of rugby.”
New Zealand’s rugby commentators, always harsh critics, were scathing about this performance. They bemoaned what they termed McCaw’s “cynical” tripping foul, accusing him of pushing gamesmanship to the absolute limits of decency. Stuff.co.nz, a prolific commentator on the All Blacks, repeated the concern that McCaw’s style of play would once again lay the All Blacks open to allegations of “cheating” by what they termed “the Northern scribes.” It is a commonly held belief amongst New Zealand commentators that the aggressive, attacking brand of rugby played by the All Blacks is considered unacceptable by Northern Hemisphere teams.
The crowd for the game was the biggest in Rugby World Cup history, with an estimated 89,000 spectators crowding into Wembley. The last record was for the crowd at the Sydney Olympic Stadium’s World Cup final, where England beat Australia in front of 82,957 people.
[Pictures via Getty Images/Mike Hewitt/Phil Walter]