Here we go! It’s Argentina v New Zealand as the two nations battle it out for a place in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final.
Los Pumas head into the clash at the Stade de France on Friday evening off the back of an impressive quarter-final performance where they defeated Wales 29-17.
The two results now set up an intriguing match-up as the Rugby Championship rivals move one step closer to potentially getting their hands on the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Much has been made of the lopsided Rugby World Cup draw, and Friday’s semi-final will give us an indication of just how much even it really is, if at all.
These two sides have met on 36 occasions in the past, and the All Blacks have dominated the results, claiming 33 wins and drawing just once.
However, Argentina will still feel confident, with their only two wins over the All Blacks coming during the last World Cup cycle, knocking over rugby’s most dominant nation in Brisbane (2020) and Christchurch (2021).
The men in black head into the game as the clear favourites, but one cannot write off the South Americans who will be channelling the energy of Brisbane and Christchurch this weekend.
Their coach, Michael Cheika, has been in these kinds of matches before, having led the Wallabies to a Rugby World Cup final in 2015, where they lost to the All Blacks, but the self-professed changed man has the nous to manufacture another upset.
Where the game will be won
There is no shortage of battlegrounds where this game will be decided, but like most Test matches, it will be won or lost up front. The set-pieces will be crucial (more on that later), but then again, so will the breakdown and gain line success.
The All Blacks were particularly smart and accurate at the breakdown in the quarter-final victory over Ireland and will surely have a similar approach against the Argentines. They were accurate in possession, too, conceding just three turnovers all game.
The Pumas will need to be accurate from the onset as the All Blacks are fast starters, averaging 12.2 points in the opening 20 minutes of games this tournament.
Ian Foster’s side enjoyed quick ball 43% of the time against Ireland, but last time out against Argentina, that number was inflated to 75%; Los Pumas simply cannot allow the All Blacks such quick possession, or it will swiftly result in a hammering.
Last time they met
What they said
All Blacks head coach Foster was not in a nostalgic mood after naming his team for the match, as he did not dwell on the two losses to the Pumas over the last three years.
“The past sets us up beautifully for both teams,” he said.
“We do know each other, but we don’t know each other terms of a Rugby World Cup, so at this stage in the tournament, it’s new territory for us, and as we’ve seen, World Cups are very different.
“We have learnt to greatly respect Argentina. They have a rich history of overachieving at the World Cup and have done a fantastic job to get here at the same level we are, so it is going to be a heck of a game.”
Speaking on the upcoming fixture, Foster said that Cheika’s charges have flown under the radar.
“It’s tense. At a basic level, because of the quality of the opposition,” he said.
“The team that are here have run their campaigns to peak at this point. Argentina have been under the radar a bit, but boy have they played some good rugby. It’s easy to get focus because of who you’re playing.
“The second thing is the enormity of it. There’s a bit of stake. You get people talking to you about tomorrow, and you take your eye off today. The challenge is as simple as that. In 2015, the opposition couldn’t be bigger in our eyes [South Africa]. Then in 2019, we probably still stop being patted on the back after the quarter-final [win against France].”
As for Cheika, the Pumas head coach understands the history of the fixture but is eager to change it.
“New Zealand have been playing for many years; they are the number one team in world rugby,” the former Wallabies boss said.
“We know the challenge they represent. This is the World Cup. The challenge is daily, every week, and we’re pleased to be here.
“We know the challenges are getting harder and harder. The history is not in our favour, but it is up to us to change that. We have a chance to on Friday, and we will be ready. When we arrive on the field, we will do what we do best.”
Players to watch
If Argentina are to have any chance of progressing to their first-ever Rugby World Cup final, then the performance of the truly world-class Emiliano Boffelli will be crucial. The sensational outside back is quickly making a strong case for being one of the greatest players Argentina have ever produced, and he showed it in the quarter-final against Wales with a man-of-the-match 16-point performance. He is incredibly accurate from the tee from distance and in close and is one of the finest finishers in the game, too.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 14, 2023
Into the pack, where Los Pumas have another world-class player in back-rower Marcos Kremer. The powerhouse flanker is a ridiculously hard worker around the park, and when he plays well, so do Argentina. In fact, two of Kremer’s best performances in blue and white have come in the historic wins over New Zealand. In Brisbane in 2020, he made a remarkable 28 tackles in a truly brutal Test match and last year in Christchurch, he made 26. Another big defensive shift will be needed from the workhorse, and he will duly oblige.
On the bench for Argentina is veteran Nicolas Sanchez, who has rediscovered some of his best form at the perfect time for his country. The veteran fly-half has been a focal point of the Pumas team for over a decade and has returned in the clutch, as he has throughout his career, to help the side reach just their second tournament semi-final. Sanchez also has a history of saving his best for the All Blacks, including a memorable first-half full house (try, conversion, drop goal and penalty) in 2017. If Argentina are still in the game when he joins the action, he could be the difference between winning and losing.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) October 14, 2023
Sam Whitelock returns to the starting XV for the All Blacks as the most capped New Zealand international becomes the first player to play four semi-finals. The veteran second-rower produced a key turnover in the final play of the quarter-final win over Ireland after an outrageous 37-phase assault. The lineout general has a challenging task against the Pumas’ set-piece, but he usually flourishes in these kinds of matches.
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) October 14, 2023
After doubts over his inclusion in the starting line-up and his role as captain, Sam Cane emphatically silenced his critics against Ireland, producing an astonishing shift that included 22 tackles and two turnovers. The flanker will be out to reproduce a similar performance against another team that prides themselves on breakdown excellence and have threats all over the park. For a second match in a row, the All Blacks have Cane, Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea in their starting XV, a combination that has won the last six matches they have started, with the last loss coming against Argentina in 2022.
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) October 14, 2023
The All Blacks have threats all over their backline and while the likes of Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane and Beauden Barrett have all been in fine form, Richie Mo’unga flexed his game-breaking prowess when it mattered against Ireland. The magical fly-half will pose a real threat to Argentina if they do not keep a close eye on him.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 14, 2023
As mentioned above, the match will be won up front, and it all starts with the scrum battle between Thomas Gallo and Tyrel Lomax. Gallo is a sublime prop in the loose, but the scrums have been his Achilles heel in the past. He has often leaked multiple penalties at the set-piece, and that cannot be the same if Argentina hope to claim a spot in the final.
Lomax showed the importance of scrummaging excellence against Ireland as he put Andrew Porter under the pump and got the All Blacks out of sticky situations and his side into threatening attacking positions.
The All Blacks tighthead is a superb scrummager, and if he is able to dominate Gallo as he did Porter, he will put his side into a fantastic position to win the match.
The old rugby cliche of ‘it all depends on which French team pitches up on the day’ rings true for this Los Pumas outfit. When they are firing, they can beat any team in the world, but as their world ranking (seventh) suggests, they are painfully inconsistent. This could quite easily be a 50-point victory for the All Blacks, a narrow loss or a late win sealed in the dying embers of the match; it all depends on ‘which Los Pumas team pitches up on the day’. Argentina have the quality in their 23 to upset the All Blacks. However, it looks to be just one step to far as New Zealand looks on course to reach their fourth Rugby World Cup final with a five-point win.
2023: New Zealand won 41-12 in Mendoza
2022: New Zealand won 53-3 in Wellington
2022: Argentina won 25-18 in Christchurch
2021: New Zealand won 36-13 in Brisbane
2021: New Zealand won 39-0 in the Gold Coast
2020: New Zealand won 38-0 in Newcastle
2020: Argentina won 25-15 in Sydney
2019: New Zealand won 20-16 in Buenos Aires
2018: New Zealand won 35-17 in Buenos Aires
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Lucio Cinti, 12 Santiago Chocobares, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2 Julián Montoya (c), 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Joel Sclavi, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Matías Moroni
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Dalton Papali’i, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Date: Friday, October 20
Venue: Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)