ABs make friends and enemies in Buenos Aires

7:01 pm on 30 September 2017

Opinion - My key takeaway from the first 24 hours of being in Argentina: I probably should've learned to speak some Spanish.

Clumsy attempts to converse with locals, whether it's getting something to eat or finding directions, have more often than not devolved into even clumsier attempts at sign language.

Vaea Fifita on the charge.

Vaea Fifita looks set to get another chance to start at blindside in Sunday's game. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Throw that in with almost getting killed because I looked right instead of left when I first crossed the road, and I'm doing a pretty good job of being a clueless tourist rather than a sports writer here on a work assignment.

However, Buenos Aires is a magnificent city. It is full of beautiful monuments to the country's history, art and culture is everywhere and the food is amazing. The locals love their sport, and the colours of the two main football sides - Boca Juniors and River Plate - are never in short supply when you walk down the wide avenues.

One thing has broken down the language barrier, though: the All Blacks.

While we were having breakfast yesterday morning, a surly waiter exasperated by our terrible Spanish inquired as to where we were from. After hearing the words he rolled up his sleeve and showed us forearm, emblazoned with a silver fern of the All Blacks tattoo. Service went a lot quicker after that.

Later that day, I took an Uber out to San Isidro rugby club, where a young Che Guevara once kicked a ball around with his mates before he went on to his far more successful career as a revolutionary warrior. On the way, I was again asked where I was from and again my answer was met with a heavily accented, 'Ooooooh, All Blacks!'

Turns out I'd got into the car of Argentina's number one Jonah Lomu fan, and we spent the half hour trip talking about how great the late winger was.

I watched the All Blacks train at San Isidro. They looked relaxed and comfortable, like a team that knows the pressure tests are over for the year. Steve Hansen has rung the changes for this match, with David Havili set to make his debut off the bench and Vaea Fifita getting another chance to start at blindside.

Waisake Naholo pairs up with Rieko Ioane out on the wings, which is a welcome return for the Highlander. He's had a frustrating lack of game time for the All Blacks, and should see plenty of ball on the inside channels if the moves that the team were running at training are anything to go by.

Meanwhile, everything else looked smooth and composed. The All Blacks have had a heavy week of promotional activities, with two visits to fellow Adidas-sponsored River Plate.

That hasn't gone down particularly well with a large section of the Buenos Aires population, who support bitter-rival club Boca. It also doesn't help that Boca are traditionally the team of the poorer community and River Plate are favoured by the rich elite, having the nickname 'los millionarios'.

It's unlikely to have any effect on the result of Saturday night though. Los Pumas have been unimpressive (and that's being very kind) in 2017 and the All Blacks should make short work of them.

So there's two things you can count on this weekend: an All Black win, plus the fact that my Spanish probably won't get any better by the time I fly home.

Jamie traveled to Buenos Aires courtesy of Toki Services Rugby Academy - building relationships, and developing coaches and players. Check them out on Facebook HERE.

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