Surreal victory for brave Pumas

SYDNEY • Just before the final whistle yesterday, Mario Ledesma was caught on camera covering his eyes with his hand, as the emotional Argentina coach took a couple of brief moments to compose himself.

His gutsy side had just stunned the All Blacks 25-15 to pull off one of rugby’s biggest upsets, consigning an embarrassed New Zealand to their first back-to-back defeats in almost a decade.

Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez scored all the Pumas’ points to hand them their maiden victory over the rugby powerhouses in the 30 Tests they have played going back 35 years.

Ledesma’s men were given virtually no chance ahead of the Tri Nations match in Sydney, after the coronavirus pandemic hindered their preparations to just two low-key practice games. But in their first Test since the World Cup last year, they pulled off a miracle.

“It’s surreal what happened, not just the result but playing, getting on the field after everything that has happened this year,” said Ledesma, who was still visibly overwrought during his post-match interview.

“If I tell you what this means, I won’t be able to talk. The guys work so hard in these conditions.

“Some of the boys haven’t seen their families for four months but they have all been positive… they have been awesome.

“And then coming out here and playing the game that they played, it is incredible. So proud of them. I think we will remember this for a long time, not only the game but because of the special situation.”

It was a humiliating defeat for New Zealand, who were shocked 24-22 by the Wallabies in Brisbane last week and have now lost back-to-back Tests for the first time since 2011 when they crashed to South Africa and Australia.

Coach Ian Foster axed 10 players and named what many regarded as the All Blacks’ best run-on side after last week’s game, but they were no match for a Pumas team helped by former Australia coach Michael Cheika.

“Obviously from an All Black view we are bitterly disappointed with the result, with the way we played,” said Foster.

If I tell you what this means, I won’t be able to talk. The guys work so hard in these conditions.

“But what I think we saw was a team that despite the disadvantage of not playing a lot of rugby… they have come here with massive energy and a desire to prove something to their country which has gone through a heck of a hard time.

“I want to congratulate them on the result, it is a bit of an historic day for them.”

Unlike Australia and New Zealand, Argentina did not have a Super Rugby competition to help them prepare. But, after months of quarantine, they took their frustrations out on the sloppy All Blacks in a dominant first half.

An inspired Sanchez 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 their famous victory.

“It’s a big game for Argentina rugby today,” an emotional captain Pablo Matera said on the pitch. “We’re used to (adversity), it’s always tough for Argentina.

“We just wanted to show our people that if you work hard, you get your rewards.”

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.


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