27 Nov 2020

All Blacks prepare for the Maradona factor

8:31 am on 27 November 2020

The All Blacks are under enormous pressure to beat an Argentinian side intent on honouring Diego Maradona with another upset win.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane.

A dejected All Blacks captain Sam Cane after the loss to Argentina in Sydney. Photo: Photosport

So, will normal service resume in Newcastle? Or will Los Pumas be able to repeat their Sydney heroics?

Coach Ian Foster is feeling the strain with some fans already calling for him to be sacked, but he's not ready to back down and is confident his side will win Saturday night's test.

"We've got our own standards that we want to meet and when we don't get to that level then clearly that's going to come down on me and I understand that. But I've got a lot of belief in these guys and this group and there's some areas where learning and growing as a group and making progress, but we've got to show that on the park."

New All Blacks coach Ian Foster.

Ian Foster. Photo: Photosport

Foster has largely stuck with the team that lost to the Pumas 13 days ago, making just three changes to the starting side.

Prop Nepo Laulala replaces Tyrel Lomax, Scott Barrett takes over from Patrick Tuipulotu at lock and Akira Ioane comes in at blindside for Shannon Frizell.

The backline remains unchanged, with Richie Mo'unga at first-five, Beauden Barrett at fullback and Jordie Barrett and Caleb Clarke on the wings.

Jordie Barrett's place in the side was in question after some less than standout performances out wide, but Foster is backing the youngest Barrett brother and believes his prodigious boot could come in handy in Newcastle.

"The first three tests that Jordie played he scored three tires and really dealt with the right wing particularly well. I felt it wasn't his best game when he went to fullback in Brisbane, but we do trust his kicking game and his decision making with his brother at the back."

The All Blacks are desperate to avoid losing three tests on the trot for the first time since 1998 and hooker Dane Coles says the pain of being in the first New Zealand team to lose to Argentina is providing extra motivation for their last test of the year.

"I've been in this team twice when we've been the first team to lose to a country and you'll probably never lose sight of that feeling. It's probably a scar that will stay with you for the rest of your career."

To avoid another career low Coles says the All Blacks will need to get on top of the ill discipline that cost them badly in that loss, with the Pumas baiting them into giving away stupid penalties.

"I probably let myself down and gave one of the boys (Pumas players) a slap around the head. They do bring a lot of heat in that department and if they do bring it, you've just got to walk away with a big smile on your face and get on with the next task and you can't retaliate.

Foster said it's been made crystal clear that any kind of push back will be punished by the referees.

"World Rugby has said that if the retaliation is at a level above what the initial prodding is then the retaliator will get penalised. The problem with that is it just keeps encouraging people to put in little cheap shots and trying to provoke you."

The South American's won't need much provoking to perform, with emotions running high following the death of Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona.

Argentina's Santiago Carreras and head coach Mario Ledesma after beating the All Blacks 2020.


Diego Maradona in the Pumas changing rooms at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Diego Maradona in the Pumas changing rooms at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Football

The Pumas coach Mario Ledesma says Maradona was a big Los Pumas fan and a regular attendee at their home games, often visiting the dressing room to talk to and encourage the players.

"We were playing against the All Blacks and the game was starting and then Diego came out into the crowd in the typical Diego way and everything stopped. The ref didn't start the game and all the Argentinians were looking up at Diego and all the All Blacks were looking up at Diego. The world just stopped."

Ledesma believes Maradona was bigger than sport.

"He united people in Argentina and he gave a lot of happiness to a lot of people in very difficult times. He's somebody that came from very little and he became the king of the world. That gives hope to a lot of Argentinians."

While the Pumas will be inspired by one of their country's most famous sons, the All Blacks have far more to lose, with coach Ian Foster's job set to come under intense scrutiny if they trip over again.