Loose Pass

Date published: August 12 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Pumas punching above their weight, a wide-open World Cup and McCaw's latest milestone.

Pumas punch above their weight

As 'unacceptable' and 'embarrassing' South Africa's performance against Argentina at the weekend, it should not and cannot over shadow the significance of the Pumas' historic success.

A first ever victory over South Africa and a first away victory in the competition certainly rocked a Boks side that had plenty of shortcomings. But amid his apologies, it is worth noting that coach Heyneke Meyer paid tribute to a Pumas side that 'outplayed us', 'delivered a great performance' and 'deserved the win'.

Pumas legend Gus Pichot recently told me that the current side were not heading to England with the intention of 'having a normal World Cup' but recent results against Australia and New Zealand suggested his talk was a little fanciful.

But I should have known better than to doubt a player whose unstinting belief was pivotal in propelling the Pumas to their best-ever World Cup showing in 2007 and later into The Rugby Championship.

The World Cup draw has been kind to the Pumas – New Zealand, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia – and a place in the quarter-finals certainly appears within their grasp.

Then an extremely winnable last eight clash with France or Ireland looks most likely and then a semi-final against one of the southern hemisphere giants that do not hold the fear they once did since Argentina's promotion to the big leagues.

But the trouble is that while Argentina are now familiar with the big boys thanks to their exposure to an elite annual competition, those teams also know the Pumas very well and they no longer have the ability to surprise – or so we thought.

And the Pumas must accept their position as one of the leading lights and as a result the target of the kind of upset that they were once masters of.

Is the World Cup wide open?

If you were in any doubt that this year's World Cup is going to be the most open contest ever seen at the sport's showpiece event then the results from the weekend should have helped to bring some clarity.

Australia's victory over New Zealand not only secured them The Rugby Championship crown but highlighted that the All Blacks are not the all-conquering force that many fear.

But the biggest shock came in South Africa where Argentina ensured they did not finish at the bottom of the table for the first time – at the Boks' expense.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Ireland continued their World Cup build-up with victory over Wales in Cardiff where a largely second-string line-up not only underlined the strength in depth available to coach Joe Schmidt but lifted them to an all-time high of second in the world rankings.

All in all, this is a great advert for the World Cup and if you listen carefully you may still be able to hear England 2015 officials high-fiving in the belief they will sell the remaining £175 tickets still available for games such as Ireland v Canada and the £150 seats still going for Australia v Fiji – or maybe not.

Another milestone for McCaw

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will have had little time for his latest career milestone having failed to heap more woe on the Wallabies in what will surely be his final Test on Australian soil – but we can still celebrate it.

His record against Australia may have 'slumped' to Played 35, Won 27, Lost 6 and Drawn 2, but his status as the sport's greatest servant was cemented with a record-equalling 141st Test appearance that saw him draw level with Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll in the all-time stats. 

The record will no doubt be his alone next weekend as he leads the All Blacks' latest revival in what will most likely be his final, and highly charged, bow on New Zealand soil. It is incredible to think he has been playing Test rugby of the highest standard since 2001. He has dominated the Test match stage like Clarence Clemons' sax solo on Springsteen's epic Jungleland.

That personal Test haul will join the other highlights on his rugby CV – most capped New Zealand player ever, most Tests as All Blacks captain, most Test wins, most wins as a captain, most tries by a Tier 1 forward, World Rugby Player of the Year, they go on and on – and if you talk to some, those achievements also include most offsides at a ruck.

But he is not the only All Black celebrating a mind-boggling landmark.

Dan Carter's nine-point haul may not have carried New Zealand to victory in Sydney but it did propel him to 1,500 Test points and strengthened his grip at the top of the all-time figures where he is now over 250 ahead of second-placed and long-retired Jonny Wilkinson.

The most complete fly-half of the professional era – and maybe all-time – also has 29 Test tries to his name and has an enviable average of over 14 points per game in his 105 Test appearances to date. Priceless and then some.

How lucky New Zealand rugby has been, how lucky we have all been.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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