World Rugby

Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal Preview: Can Pumas Match All Blacks' Power

Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal Preview: Can Pumas Match All Blacks' Power

After questions about whether they had lost their luster, the All Blacks have erupted back into classic form. Do the Pumas have another shock in them?

Oct 19, 2023 by Briar Napier
Rugby World Cup Quarterfinal Preview: Can Pumas Match All Blacks' Power

And we are down to four.

New Zealand. Argentina. England. South Africa. 

Tier 1 rugby powers from four continents playing for the most prized possession in international test rugby — the Webb Ellis Cup.

And it’ll be Oceania’s representative and the pride of South America starting us off strong.

The All Blacks are known the world over for their dominance and ability to run over foes in devastating fashion, but until a few weeks ago, many wondered if the three-time world champions had begun to lose their luster. 

But as they’re back in another World Cup semifinal, doubters are beginning to quiet down with each impressive New Zealand victory.

Argentina’s Pumas, meanwhile, crashed into the last four with an exciting never-say-die attitude that saw them progress to the semis, despite failing to win their pool. 

They’ve made this stage of the World Cup before but never past it. Could this be the year it all changes, and South American rugby set a new ceiling for international success?

It’s going to be an electric night in front of around 80,000 people in person and millions more watching on screens across the globe. Strap in and see which will be the first nation to clinch a spot in next Saturday’s World Cup final.

Here’s a look at the first World Cup semifinal this weekend between New Zealand and Argentina, scheduled to get underway Friday night at the Stade de France in suburban Paris:

New Zealand

It truly seems as if New Zealand making a deep World Cup run is inevitable, no matter what happens sometimes, doesn’t it? 

Beginning pool play on perhaps the weakest form they’ve ever had entering a World Cup, the All Blacks, in the 18 months prior to France, had lost a home test series for the first time since 1994 (against Ireland in the summer of 2022), lost at home to Argentina for the first time (in the 2022 Rugby Championship) and were smashed 35-7 by arch nemesis South Africa — New Zealand’s largest defeat in its history — in their final warm-up match before the pool stage. 

A 27-13 loss to host France in the tournament’s opening match (a game in which Les Bleus easily could’ve won by more) didn’t help subdue the flames surrounding outgoing coach Ian Foster and his squad, who were beaten in a World Cup pool game for the first time. 

Form improved, however — and dramatically. 

New Zealand cruised through the rest of Pool A by outsourcing its final three foes 240-41, the most impressive of which was a 96-17 romp over Italy. In that match, the Azzurri, who many picked to at least give the All Blacks a competitive match, were ground into dust by NZ’s massive 14-try haul. 

Their quarterfinal fixture against the winner of Pool B, Ireland, was where many expected the All Blacks’ journey to end, however, and for good reason: Ireland, as the No. 1-ranked side in the world, entered the knockout rounds as the winner of the World Cup’s so-called “Pool of Death” and victors of 17 straight matches, one shy of the top-tier record shared by New Zealand (2015-2016) and England (2015-2017). 

But in an all-time classic in the Stade de France, the All Blacks ended the streak and Ireland’s dreams to finally progress to the semifinals with an epic 28-24 win, with Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, in particular, showing veteran leadership and guts with world-class performances on the park. 

Foster, who Crusaders boss Scott Robertson will succeed at the conclusion of the World Cup, has made two changes to his starting XV to face Los Pumas, as Brodie Retallick makes way into the back row for all-time caps leader Sam Whitelock — who could be the first player to win the World Cup three times, if New Zealand goes all the way — and the dynamic Mark Tele’a replaces Leicester Fainga’anuku on the wing. 

No matter who suits up on the pitch in Saint-Denis, the All Blacks will be the betting favorites, as they have 33 wins of a possible 36 against Argentina, and the South Americans have never advanced past the semis of a World Cup. 

It’s a much-improved Pumas team than years past, however — as New Zealand should know, considering its losses to them in 2020 and 2022 — but this is the All Blacks in a World Cup semifinal. The country’s rugby scene lives and breathes for these moments, and that’s a critical attribute to have when the weight of a nation is on your shoulders.


What Argentina has done since Michael Cheika was appointed as head coach has been remarkable and has seen the Pumas break barriers and achieve milestones. 

There was the aforementioned win in New Zealand, along with triumphs in England and Australia, that have occurred in the past 18 months, plus a 22-21 scare of world champion South Africa in Johannesburg in June, which, all in all, has seen the Pumas pick up eye-popping result after eye-popping result under the former Wallabies boss. 

With a wide-open Pool D up for the taking, however, Argentina perhaps didn’t perform as strongly as it may have hoped. 

With England arriving to France short-handed due to injuries and suspensions in its pool opener against the Pumas, Argentina’s first outing in France instead was a bit underwhelming, only scoring a try in the 79th minute of a 27-10 loss, as it was beaten by a George Ford kicking masterclass. 

But the Pumas rebounded and shooed away both a much-improved Samoa and the always-dangerous Japan in the pool finale to clinch second place and a spot in the knockout rounds, where they were drawn against somewhat surprising Pool C winner Wales.

Argentina was considered by many to be the underdog to a suddenly white-hot Welsh side. 

Argentina’s quarterfinal day in Marseille, however, was magical. 

Down double-digit points to Wales, the Pumas roared in the match’s last quarter, receiving tries in the pulsating final 12 minutes from Joel Sclavi and Nicolas Sanchez, dramatically ending Wales’ semifinal hopes with a 29-17 victory that saw the South Americans qualify for the World Cup semifinals for the third time in their history and first since 2015. 

The Pumas’ resolve and fight to the finish after seemingly appearing down and out for large portions of the match make them a dangerous opponent for the All Blacks, and Cheika has opted to change little of what has been working in his starting XV to face them.

Only Gonzalo Bertanou comes in at scrum-half in favor of veteran Tomas Cubelli. 

Also in Argentina’s favor, is the fact that many of the same faces who took down the All Blacks twice over the past three years are on this World Cup squad and have the knowledge that, yes, New Zealand is both mortal and beatable. 

Doing it in a World Cup semifinal, though? That’s a completely different task and set of demands the Pumas must show they’re ready for, rather than be cast aside by the avalanche of talent and world-class play that the All Blacks possess and can flip a switch to turn on in an instant. 

There’s something motivating about being the underdog, however, and it’s a feeling that’s nothing new to the Pumas, who have battled against the best of the best across the globe for decades. But can they pull off their biggest shock yet with the rugby universe watching?

The prediction

Cheika must be commended for getting the best out of Argentina and instilling belief in the crown jewel of South American rugby, helping to increase the continent’s pedigree in the sport with a strong torch-bearer within it. 

Don’t expect the Pumas to quit, even if they fall behind in the match's early stages, because when squads get complacent, that’s when Argentina has proven to be at its most dangerous. 

Still, New Zealand didn’t become the world’s most successful rugby nation in history overnight, and that reputation was built off the backs of warding off challengers and playing box-office rugby — much like it’s done nearly every step of the way in the World Cup since its loss to France — when it matters most. 

NZ still arguably is the most talent-rich hotspot for rugby stars on the planet, and after years of watching legends before them achieve heights on an international stage, the current squad now gets a chance to do the same — or, for those who have been around the national side for a while now, continue their legacies. 

With devastating pace and efficiency despite Los Pumas’ valiant and best efforts, the All Blacks get to their fifth World Cup final and one step closer to lifting what would be a record-breaking fourth Webb Ellis Cup. New Zealand 29, Argentina 13.