All Blacks back in Rugby Championship contention after dominant win, claims Foster

By Sports Desk September 03, 2022

Ian Foster declared New Zealand were back in contention for the Rugby Championship title after his team atoned for last week's shock defeat to Argentina by crushing the Pumas 53-3 in Hamilton.

Having lost three consecutive home Tests for the first time in their history, the All Blacks were under huge pressure to secure a second win of the campaign on Saturday, and they responded in emphatic fashion.

New Zealand restricted their opponents to no tries for the first time this year before blitzing the Pumas in the second half, with Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Brodie Retallick and Beauden Barrett going over after the break to clinch a morale-boosting win.

Foster's future has been the subject of considerable speculation recently, but the All Blacks coach is simply concerned with the result's impact on the championship standings.

Asked whether he felt a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, Foster said: "No. It's the life of a coach.

"All we've done is put ourselves back into contention. From a championship [perspective] we've still got plenty to do, so we'll roll our sleeves up and get stuck into our work.

"It's significant in the Rugby Championship, first and foremost. This championship is important for us, and we put ourselves in a bit of a hole last week.

"We had to respond and to walk away with a bonus point and a big points differential in a tight competition at least keeps us in the race.

"I'm just proud of the way we've worked hard to get our game where we want it to be. It hasn't happened at the speed we'd like it to, but we saw signs of that tonight. 

"There is no doubt the team has felt a whole lot of different pressure. I was just proud of the way the guys have hung in there and not got tight under the pressure and played with a bit of ambition."

The All Blacks' dominant success represents just their third Test win of 2022, and prevented Argentina from sealing their first back-to-back victories over their hosts.

Foster was delighted with how his team responded to the criticism coming their way, adding: "It was a big week for us. We had to respond, and I thought we did it in a really ruthless manner.

"There were a lot of questions about putting the same group out again, but I really believe in the direction we're going and am delighted with the response against a pretty enthusiastic Argentina team."

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  • Messi, Vinicius and the other Copa America 2024 Golden Boot contenders Messi, Vinicius and the other Copa America 2024 Golden Boot contenders

    A festival of football is about to kick off in the United States, as the Copa America sparks into action.

    Argentina, the reigning champions, get the ball rolling when they face Canada in the opening Group A match, and Lionel Messi will be the main man as ever for La Albiceleste.

    Messi was the joint-leading scorer at the 2021 Copa America, netting four goals to lead the standings alongside Colombia’s Luis Diaz.

    The Barcelona great is expected to be right up there again when it comes to the 2024 Copa America Golden Boot race, and here, we dive into the main candidates for that award.

    Lionel Messi

    Not only did Messi finish as joint-top scorer at the 2021 Copa, he was also the leading assister and then, 18 months later, he went on to lead Argentina to World Cup glory, scoring seven goals in the process, from 6.6 expected goals – only Kylian Mbappe (eight) netted more times in Qatar.

    As soon as he features for Argentina at this tournament, Messi will become the Copa America’s all-time record holder for appearances – he is tied with Chile great Sergio Livingstone on 34, as it stands.

     

    Messi has scored 13 Copa America goals, which puts him joint-seventh on the all-time list, alongside fellow Argentina great Gabriel Batistuta. If he is able to replicate his four goals from the 2021 edition, then Messi will join Norberto Mendez and Zizinho at the top of the all-time charts – that is unless Peru’s Paolo Guerrero and/or Chile’s Eduardo Vargas were to net at least four times each to set a new record.

    Since the start of the 2011 Copa, Messi has had 102 shots – more than any other player. Surprisingly, his conversion rate stands at just 10.78 per cent, which stands as the second-lowest out of any player to have netted at least five goals in the competition in that time.

    But there can be no doubting Messi’s genius, and the little magician is entering what will surely be his final Copa in fine form – he has scored 12 goals in MLS for Inter Miami this season, outperforming his 8.3 xG and averaging a goal every 86 minutes.

    Argentina are the Opta supercomputer’s favourites to win the Copa, and group matches against Canada, Chile and Peru provide Messi with a favourable jumping off point to win the Golden Boot again.

    Vinicius Junior

    Fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid (and scoring in the final – again), Vinicius heads into the Copa America as Brazil’s talisman.

    With Neymar absent through injury, the onus will fall on the winger to provide the creative spark and clinical edge to drag what looks like a more dogged, workmanlike squad through to the latter stages – Brazil are, according to our model, second favourites behind Argentina, with a 23 per cent win probability.

    If the Selecao are to challenge the holders, then they need Vinicius in top form.

    While he played as a split-striker for Madrid this season as Carlo Ancelotti found a way to get the best out of Jude Bellingham, Vinicius is more likely to play wide left for his country, though his cutting runs from out-to-in will make him a constant threat, as long as the likes of Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta can pick him out.

     

    Vinicius netted 24 times for Los Blancos in 2023-24, and attempted 286 dribbles – 10 more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues across all competitions. He averaged 8.4 take-on attempts per 90, a tally bettered by only Jeremy Doku, while Vinicius also boasts a dribble completion rate of 3.3 per 90.

    He is yet to score at the Copa America, however. That being said, he did not make a single start in 2021, with all four of his appearances coming as a substitute, having only one shot and completing only one of his seven dribbles. But such has been his stellar form under Ancelotti in the intervening three years, there is no doubting he is now Brazil’s main man.

    Brazil face Costa Rica, Paraguay and in-form Colombia in Group D, but none of those defences should strike fear into Vinicius.

    Luis Diaz

    Diaz enjoyed a superb campaign three years ago, scoring two absolute screamers – one came in the group stage, an overhead kick against Brazil, while the other came in the third-place play-off as Colombia beat Peru; it was a stunner from outside the area, with the then-Porto winger lashing into the top-right corner after skipping in from the flank and taking on several defenders.

    Indeed, the quality of Diaz’s finishes are shown by his xG in 2021, which was just 1.0. And Diaz’s excellent shooting at that edition is further evidenced by his expected goals on target (xGoT) figure of 2.2.

    Diaz had only 10 shots, 18 fewer than Messi, yet boasted a hugely impressive 40 per cent shot conversion rate. Only Messi (57) and Neymar (77), meanwhile, attempted more dribbles than Diaz (43) at the 2021 edition, while it was just that superstar duo that completed more dribbles, too (Neymar 35, Messi 34, Diaz 26).

     

    His performances at that tournament piqued the interest of Premier League sides, and Diaz subsequently moved to Liverpool in January 2022. So while he will not be quite the unknown quantity that he was three years ago, if he is at his best, he will still be hugely difficult to stop – especially with James Rodriguez pulling the strings behind him.

    Darwin Nunez

    Bookending this list of the top Golden Boot contenders is Uruguay’s Darwin Nunez. The Liverpool striker has been superb under Marcelo Bielsa, and looks to be El Loco’s main attacker, even with Luis Suarez in the squad.

    Nunez scored 11 Premier League goals for the Reds in 2023-24, but underperformed his xG (16.4) by 5.4. While he was unfortunate in a sense – he hit the woodwork on nine occasions, four more times than any other player – he was also erratic in his finishing, with his xGoT dropping to 15.5. Nunez also missed 14 big chances, which ranked behind only Manchester City’s Erling Haaland (34).

     

    The 24-year-old may never be ultra-clinical, (he had a shot conversion rate of 10.2 per cent in the Premier League in the season just gone) but his pace, tenacity and work rate make him the ideal Bielsa folly up top.

    Nunez scored a hat-trick in Uruguay’s 4-0 demolition of Mexico earlier in June, while he is the leading goalscorer in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, with five to his name.

    Uruguay head into the tournament in fine fettle, and Bielsa will always be willing to risk it all in attack – meaning plenty of opportunities should come Nunez’s way.

    They are in a group with the hosts USA, Panama and Bolivia – the worst-ranked team in the tournament – so Nunez should be aiming to make a dent early on.

    Other contenders

    Lautaro Martinez

    Martinez has had an outstanding season for Inter, who he led to the Scudetto while finishing as top scorer in Serie A, scoring 24 goals in 33 appearances, and comfortably outperforming his 17.6 xG.

    However, he has not netted for Argentina in 2026 World Cup qualifying, and is not a regular starter under Lionel Scaloni, so chances may not be of a premium for him. That being said, he did score twice in Argentina's 4-1 win over Guatemala on Friday.

     

    Endrick

    Boy wonder Endrick, who will link up with Vinicius, Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid next season, has scored three goals for Brazil in his last three appearances.

    He scored those in successive matches, though he was unable to become the first Selecao player since Neymar in 2021 to net in four consecutive games as Dorival Junior’s team drew 1-1 with the USA in a warm-up match. At 17, Endrick looks like a superstar in the making, and he could be an outside bet for the Golden Boot.

    Luis Suarez

    Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer Suarez is bang in form heading into this tournament. The veteran has 68 goals in 138 caps and has netted 12 times already for Miami in MLS this season, averaging a goal every 96 minutes.

    Of players to score at least five times in MLS in 2024, Suarez has the fourth-highest shot conversion rate, too (33.33 per cent). Uruguay are ranked as the third-favourites by the Opta supercomputer, so Suarez could have plenty of matches to add to his international goals tally.

    Christian Pulisic

    The USA cannot find much consistency under Gregg Berhalter, though they did draw 1-1 with Brazil in a friendly on June 13. If the hosts are to make a serious run, then they will need to channel through Pulisic.

    While he is more likely to act as a creator, the attacker has proved he is more than capable of putting away chances. He scored 15 goals for Milan in 2023-24, making it the best goalscoring campaign of his career.

  • Williamson steps down as New Zealand white-ball captain Williamson steps down as New Zealand white-ball captain

    Kane Williamson has stepped down as New Zealand's captain in both ODIs and T20Is, while also declining a central contract.

    New Zealand endured a disappointing T20 World Cup campaign, exiting at the end of the group stage after losing their opening two games against Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea.

    Williamson played his 100th Test earlier this year, leading New Zealand in 40 of those, and has 165 ODI caps and 93 T20I caps.

    As captain, he led them to the World Test Championship title in 2021, and two finals in the ODI World Cup in 2019, and the T20 World Cup in 2021, both of which they lost.

    With the hopes of prolonging his international career, the 33-year-old explained his decision to decline the contract for 2024-25.

    "Helping push the team forward across the formats is something I'm very passionate about and something I want to keep contributing towards," Williamson said in a New Zealand Cricket (NZC) release.

    "However, pursuing an overseas opportunity during the New Zealand summer means I'm unable to accept a central contract offer."

    Ahead of last season, Williamson had given up his Test captaincy, with Tim Southee appointed as his successor.

    Despite not taking the offer of a central contract, he has not written off signing one in the future if the timing is right.

    "Playing for New Zealand is something I treasure, and my desire to give back to the team remains undiminished.

    "My life outside cricket has changed, however. Spending more time with my family and enjoying experiences with them at home or abroad is something that's even more important to me."

  • Argentina v Canada: Messi braced for tough Copa America title defence despite favourites tag Argentina v Canada: Messi braced for tough Copa America title defence despite favourites tag

    Argentina are preparing to defend their Copa America title, but Lionel Messi is staying realistic ahead of their opening match against Canada on Thursday.

    The Albiceleste beat Brazil 1-0 in the final in 2021 to win the title for the first time since 1993 before going on to lift the World Cup just over a year later.

    Since their victory over France in December 2022, Argentina have remained in strong form, losing just one of their 14 matches in all competitions and winning the other 13.

    Messi, who will become the Copa America's all-time record appearance-maker when he next features in the tournament, says he expects to face a tough challenge to retain the trophy.

    "Argentina are always favourites," Messi said. "I think it is going to be a very eventful tournament because national teams are becoming better and better.

    "Today we are the best because we won the World Cup, but the Copa America is going to be difficult.

    "It will be even, and our team is aware that we are going to have to continue doing the same and more to win again.

    "We are going to try to win the Copa America again but let's remember that not everything is about winning."

    Meanwhile, Canada are making their first appearance at the Copa America after qualifying through the playoffs with a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

    They failed to get out of the group stage on their return to the world stage in Qatar two years ago, but now under new coach Jesse Marsch they are looking to make an impression before co-hosting the World Cup in 2026.

    Canada had an encouraging 0-0 draw against France in their last warm-up match and will hope a squad containing Alphonso Davies, Stephen Eustaquio and Jonathan David can be competitive in a Group A that also contains Chile and Peru.

    Tests do not come much tougher than the reigning champions, but Marsch is confident they have a plan to deal with the danger Argentina, and Messi, pose.

    "We're excited for this tournament, we know it's a big challenge," said Marsch. "It won't be a shock to us when we encounter the quality and the level of play with Argentina.

    "We'll be preparing heavily for everything that Argentina will do and prepare for what they present. Certainly, Messi is still a massive part of their team and who they are."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Lionel Messi

    Who else?

    His next appearance in the Copa America will be his 35th, overtaking Chile great Sergio Livingstone, and he has scored 13 goals for Argentina in the competition along the way.

    He has also provided nine Copa assists and has had more shots than any other player at the tournament since the start of the 2011 edition (102).

    Canada – Cyle Larin

    Larin is Canada's all-time top scorer, netting 29 times for his country in 68 appearances including a key strike in the win over Trinidad and Tobago.

    Despite struggling for goals in LaLiga with Real Mallorca in 2023-24, netting just seven times in all competitions, Larin will be looking to further improve his international record at the tournament, with Lille's David (26) fast closing in on his tally.

    MATCH PREDICTION: ARGENTINA WIN

    Unsurprisingly, Argentina are the overwhelming favourites to start their title defence with a win and they go in with a 74.3% chance of finishing the game with three points.

    Canada, meanwhile, are given just an 11% chance of claiming an upset in their Copa America debut, with the draw slightly more likely at 14.7%.

    The Albiceleste have only lost once since the start of 2023, and in that run of 14 matches, they have conceded just four goals and impressively kept 11 clean sheets.

    Canada failed to score in either of their warm-up friendlies against the Netherlands (4-0) and France (0-0) in the build-up to the tournament, last hitting the back of the net in March.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Argentina – 74.3%

    Draw – 14.7%

    Canada – 11%

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