Analysis: Why is Argentina’s attack struggling?

Date published: October 4 2016

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Our resident analyst returns to break down where Argentina’s attack is stuttering after their contest against New Zealand.

In the next two months Argentina will play Australia, Japan, Wales, Scotland and England, four of those games will be played in the British Isles, they play Japan in Tokyo.

Although the Pumas have only picked up one win so far in the Rugby Championship, they go into the November Tests with the knowledge that if they play as well as they have at certain periods during the Rugby Championship, they could go undefeated. If, however, they play with the huge number of mental errors that they showed during Saturday nights’ game against New Zealand then they risk leaving the UK with no wins.

Mental errors are almost impossible to analyse but another more worrying trend for the South Americans is a lack of attacking threat from their backs. Argentina have the second most metres made in the tournament but they have made just 3.6m per carry, which puts them third on that list – just 20cm ahead of South Africa, who are last by both metres made and carries made. In addition to that, Joaquín Tuculet is the only Argentinian back to make more than 100 metres in a game.

One more fact to highlight just how underpowered the Argentinian back attack has been of late, the back with the most metres made during the game against New Zealand was Tomás Cubelli with 55 metres. He played for 24 minutes.

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Early on, Argentina set their stall out as a simple attacking backline. Nicolás Sánchez takes the ball in the first receiver position and then ships it on for a crash ball. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this set-up but because there’s no deception, the ball is either going to stay with Sánchez or go one man out, the All Blacks just need to key on those two options. By bringing an attacker behind the crash ball and dropping the outside backs into attacking positions, the attacking options would’ve stretched the defense much more than they did.

Too much of the Argentinian attacking threat from the backline resulted in wide passes which the defense were easily able to drift across and defend. In the above example the New Zealand defense haven’t been drawn in, so there’s no space out wide. When Matías Moroni does finally try and straighten up the attack it’s become too condensed and the pass goes to ground.

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By this point in the game the All Blacks were well in control and looked to be strolling towards victory. Argentina were still attacking though, and gaining ground when they went through their forwards but they were still hamstrung by a backline which seemed to stall two passes away from the ruck.

In the above picture there’s an opportunity to go wide, the players in the square can push out to create an overlap. Unfortunately, as the below GIF shows, once the second pass is made there’s no room left to take advantage of the overlap and it comes to nothing.

Argentina don’t actually break the gain line on this attack despite using virtually the entire width of the pitch. What they really needed was an incisive push forward but instead the ball just drifted limply wide.

In this penultimate example we see the perils of a pass first mentality. This play is scuppered early on when the ball goes to ground from the lineout. However, the near 15-yard loss can be avoided if someone straightened up the attack. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen and the ball is just pushed wide with no attacking threat. It ends up like tackling practice for the All Blacks who swarm on Santiago Gonzalez, the man left holding the ball.

Although most of the failing in this example comes from the lineout, it does display the feast or famine nature of the Argentinian attack where the ball is shipped out wide with the hope that an overlap can be exploited, but, with the very real possibility that the ball carrier will be left isolated on the wing with no yardage made.

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In the final example we will look at the charge down which led to the third All Black try, and really put the game away. So far, most of my criticism of the Argentinian attack has been their tendency to list across the pitch without straightening the line. In the above example, and below GIF, the issue is the lack of options.

When Sánchez receives the ball he has a pod of three backs directly behind him. They’re so bunched that New Zealand only need four men to defend them, in fact the person closest to the ruck is Dane Coles who will score the try. The pass from Sánchez to Tuculet is labored and once he does get it the only options he has are to take a 15-yard loss or force a kick across his body under serious pressure. Never has a 15-yard loss looked so appetizing.

Conclusion

Argentina are an exciting team to watch, not least because of their ability, and willingness, to go wide. However, the stats show that they do spin the ball wide but they don’t make much yardage by doing this. The bulk of yardage comes from big forward carries and offloads around the ruck. This should condense the defense and allow overlaps to form for the backline.

If Argentina can straighten up the attack and take advantage of these overlaps, they could end the year with an unbeaten run and English and Welsh scalps. If they wholly rely on their forwards they could end up keeping each game tight but ultimately missing out. Something they’ve made a habit of in the Rugby Championship.

Extra

As previously mentioned in more depth here New Zealand continue to display a weakness in their fringe defense. For Ireland, who play the World Champions twice, and France the rule is simple, Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara are the weak links in defense yet they defend in the A position often. When they are there, run at them.

There aren’t many weaknesses in the All Blacks but this is a glaring one and both Ireland and France, and to a lesser extent, Italy, need to exploit it.

by Sam Larner

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