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SYDNEY, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Argentina served up one of the biggest upsets in test rugby history when they stunned New Zealand 25-15 in the Tri-Nations on Saturday, beating the three-times world champions for the first time in 30 attempts going back 35 years.
An inspired Nicolas Sanchez scored all of Argentina’s points with a try, six penalties and a conversion, and the Pumas held off a fierce late onslaught from the All Blacks to secure a famous victory in their first test for more than a year.
The Argentinians were given almost no chance of registering a victory in their tournament opener after being kept off the pitch for almost the entire season by the global health crisis.
Flyhalf Sanchez was a clear Man of the Match but it was a team effort as the Pumas tackled like demons, rucked like bulls and ran the ball with confidence throughout the 80 minutes in front of 9,063 fans enjoying the late afternoon Sydney sun.
“It’s a big game for Argentina rugby today,” emotional captain Pablo Matera said on the pitch.
“We’re used to (adversity), it’s always tough for Argentina. We just wanted to show our people that if you work hard, you get your rewards.”
It was a most unlikely venue for their maiden win over the All Blacks but the ecstatic Pumas players gathered in front of a small band of their compatriots in the stands at the Western Sydney Stadium and celebrated with song and dance.
The All Blacks had been looking to impose themselves on the competition after losing 24-22 to Australia last week in Brisbane, but instead fell to back-to-back test defeats for the first time since August 2011.
Captain Sam Cane finally forced his way over the Argentina line in the 53rd minute and winger Caleb Clarke followed after the hooter but it was too little, too late for the All Blacks.
“It was very tough, full credit to Argentina, they came out with more intent than we did and they thoroughly deserved their victory tonight,” said Cane.
“They just kept coming ...”
Twice World Cup semi-finalists, Argentina have come close to beating New Zealand before. Even when they led 19-3 just after half-time, it only raised expectations of yet another great escape from the All Blacks.
Sanchez scored his team’s only try after 19 minutes, getting a kindly bounce off his own chip kick before gathering to touch down as the referee was playing advantage after yet more ill-discipline from the All Blacks.
There was plenty of niggle and aggression from the Pumas as well but they kept their discipline when it counted and more importantly made remarkably few errors for a team with so little match practice.
New Zealand remain top of the standings with six points ahead of Australia and Argentina, who both have four, but that mattered not a jot to the Pumas after they finally completed the full set of wins over the top tier rugby nations.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said coach Mario Ledesma. “Just even playing that game after everything that has happened for Argentina this year.
“Some of the players have not seen their families for four months and they haven’t complained once.
“I think we’ll remember this for a long time ... somebody will write a book about it.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Kim Coghill)
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