All Blacks coach Ian Foster said his team needed to be better at keeping their composure late in matches after they lost to Argentina on home soil for the first time in Christchurch on Saturday.
Traditionally strong finishers, New Zealand looked to have the game in the bag when Richie Mo’unga gave them an 18-12 lead eight minutes into the second half, only for the Pumas to turn over the restart and score a try on their way to a 25-18 win.
“We conceded that try at the kick-off, a bit fortunate, and after that they grew an arm and a leg, and we probably got perhaps a little bit flustered,” he said.
“So we’ve got to look at our composure in the latter stages, particularly with the bench coming on, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re a little bit more ruthless at the breakdown.”
It was the fourth time in six games this season that Foster has been forced to explain a defeat for a team that has traditionally only had one or two a year.
Foster said the Pumas ability to turn over the ball at the breakdown, and the refereeing of the tackle area, had been a key factor in the loss.
“Congratulations to Argentina, they kept true to how they wanted to play, they really frustrated us,” he added.
“We didn’t get what we wanted at the breakdown. We had large periods of dominance in our set piece but that didn’t go well at the end.
“But overall they got away with some stuff at the breakdown and we weren’t able to deal with it.”
Argentina coach Michael Cheika, however, saw things differently, the Australian suggesting his team’s tactics were simply those that the All Blacks had long mastered and that the hosts’ speed of recycle was at times as quick as could be expected.
“Well, he would be an expert on it because his team does it all the time, so he should know. Maybe he’s right, I don’t know,” Cheika quipped in response to Foster’s comments about the breakdown.
The former Wallabies coach added that he thought both teams had enjoyed success at the breakdown at different times throughout the match.
“I thought New Zealand were okay at the ruck, they recycled a lot of ball quickly,” Cheika said. “So, I thought we had parity in that area, they got a few steals, we got a few. I thought the ruck work across the whole game was quite good, because there was not a lot of actual opportunities to get on to the ball.”
Foster has endured a torrent of criticism this year after New Zealand lost their July series to Ireland and their Rugby Championship opener in South Africa.
It was only after the victory in Johannesburg two weeks ago that he was confirmed in his job through to next year’s World Cup.
The reigning tournament champions have the chance to make immediate amends when they face the Pumas in Hamilton next week and Foster said there were some positives to take out of Saturday’s match.
“We’ve got to look at the dominance we got in the first two thirds of the game, particularly at lineout and scrum time,” he said.
“But just a little bit of discipline and some frustration and that’s a key thing they play on.”
Cheika, meanwhile, will be challenging his team to complete an historic double on New Zealand soil.
“For those Argentina boys, that’s historic for them and I want them to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a first for me too, I’ve never won a test match in New Zealand.
“I’m looking to grow the team, particularly towards the World Cup, and what’s important for us now is getting ready for next week.
“Because they’re going to come back with every piece of artillery they’ve got and we’ve got to find a way to handle that and give something back.”