All Blacks v Argentina: Pumas out to honour Diego Maradona with victory over New Zealand

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma says the Pumas will honour Diego Maradona with a spirited performance when they face the All Blacks in their Tri Nations clash on Saturday. 

On Thursday (NZ time) Maradona - who led Argentina to football World Cup glory in 1986 - died aged 60 at his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires when he suffered a heart attack, which came weeks after he underwent successful surgery on a brain blood clot.

His death sent shockwaves around the world, with Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez declaring three days of national mourning.

Maradona was a huge fan of any Argentine sporting team and has often been photographed in the changing room with the Pumas after games. 

Ledesma, who played 84 tests for Argentina, met Maradona on several occasions and believes he'll be watching the side again this weekend as they chase back-to-back wins over the All Blacks. 

A fortnight ago, the Pumas put up a spirited performance to claim a 25-15 win over New Zealand, saying that they were spurred on by Argentina's struggles with COVID-19, now they have a new season to do their country proud. 

"He loved the Pumas, he'll be watching for sure," said Ledesma. "He came to many games, and he came once to our changing room after a game against the All Blacks in La Plata; we'd lost on the last ball.

"I crossed paths a couple of times, but not many. He had an attraction, the world stopped when he was there.

"He would watch tennis, hockey, rugby, football, whenever there was an Argentina jersey he was there and he was an example of how to represent that jersey.

Diego Maradona celebrates with the Pumas team at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Diego Maradona celebrates with the Pumas team at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Getty

"He's a big figure in our country and he epitomised a lot of the way the Argentinians are. We'll try to remember him the best way possible, on the field representing the colours."

Ledesma hinted at an on-field tribute for Maradona on Saturday, though it won't involve simply retiring Nicolas Sanchez's No.10 jersey for the week.

But he hoped the breakthrough win over New Zealand had also brought a smile to Maradona's face. 

"I hope for him [he saw]," said Ledesma. "The last couple of months have been really difficult for him and he'd been switching off slowly and everybody felt it was coming. 

"We could have made him happy just that little bit, that would be great."

All Blacks coach Ian Foster also paid his respects to Maradona, and while he expects a fired-up Pumas side, he admits his side still has plenty to play for as well. 

All Blacks v Argentina: Pumas out to honour Diego Maradona with victory over New Zealand

"It's a sad day for Argentina as a nation," said Foster. "All we can do is commiserate with them. 

"[Maradona] was an iconic sporting person and clearly had a lot of meaning for the people of Argentina. 

"Clearly when you go into a game, the next big game off the track for that country, it's going to have some emotional appeal. But that's something that they will deal with and they'll control. 

"We've got to control our emotions and we have plenty of reasons and determination to play for our country as well and do what we need to do to fix up our performance two weeks ago is pretty high on our list."  

Join us at 9:45pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Argentina Tri Nations clash