Beauden Barrett contributed 17 points, while Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty scored a brace of tries, as the All Blacks clinched a 57-22 win over Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The scoreline doesn’t reflect the nature of the context. After 50 minutes, the All Blacks led just 24-22, but as they so often do, the world champs finished with an irrepressible flourish to outscore their opponents 33-0 in the final half an hour.
The result sees them bank a third successive full haul of log points, and there simply seems to be no stopping this New Zealand side from charging to another Rugby Championship title.
Before kick-off, the All Blacks appeared to deliver an acknowledgement of the Pumas’ progression as a rugby force when they opted for the ‘Kapa o Pango’ haka, often reserved for big clashes.
That mark of respect proved to be perfectly justified when Argentina produced a real statement of intent with a beautifully worked try to Santiago Cordero as early as the third minute.
Yet, as is often the case, the All Blacks calmly waited for their opportunity to strike, and when they won a penalty 10m from Argentina’s tryline, captain Kieran Read had no hesitation in turning down a shot at goal and rather opting for a scrum.
That decision was immediately vindicated when a superbly executed set move saw Julian Savea come off the wing to snatch up a perfectly delayed pass from Aaron Smith and dart over under the posts, with Crotty having executed an effective dummy run.
Nevertheless, as illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, it was Argentina who enjoyed impressive ascendancy in the opening quarter. In extremely uncharacteristic statistics for the All Blacks, they saw their opponents make 144m to 67m, 39 carries to 14, beat five defenders to three and enjoy 67% of possession.
Playing with impressive pace, Argentina also forced the All Blacks into ill-discipline under pressure, with flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez coolly slotting two penalties to take the visitors into a 13-7 lead, while Barrett missed his first couple of penalty shots at goal.
With Argentina opting to play plenty of rugby, though, the danger was always going to be the threat of the All Blacks’ counter-attack, and it would be another dynamic break from Savea that fractured the defence, with Smith ultimately going over to score after the ball was recycled.
Sánchez and Israel Dagg (interestingly taking a long-distance penalty) next traded a couple of successful kicks at goal, while Smith then went from try-scorer to try-creator as he put in a neat grubber that bounced perfectly for Barrett to collect and score in the 36th minute.
It suddenly took the hosts into a 24-16 lead, but Sánchez would have the final say of the half when he slotted his fourth penalty to cut the deficit to just five at the break, although he did miss a long-range attempt with the final play of the stanza.
What Argentina did so well in the first half was to protect possession and deny the All Blacks the opportunity to build through the phases with ball in hand, with the hosts having just 44% of possession.
It was a strategy that proved to be highly effective at the start of the second stanza as the Pumas continued to dominate the possession stakes, while they deservedly won back some points with a 50th-minute penalty to Sánchez.
But just as there were some signs that the All Blacks could be a bit rattled, their magic man Barrett stepped up to create a try for Crotty that helped open up a nine-point buffer, while two minutes later replacement Charlie Faumuina barged over to score.
After impressing for 50 minutes, Argentina would have looked up to a scoreboard that read 38-22 and wondered just how they were so far behind. But that is the brilliance of the All Blacks.
In the next 10 minutes, it went from bad to worse for the Pumas as their energy and resolve began to fade, with Crotty and Smith both completing their braces as the All Blacks romped into a 30-point lead.
To pile on the punishment for the Pumas, New Zealand replacement Luke Romano would score one more try before full-time to complete what was a resounding result in the end.
All Blacks – Tries: Julian Savea, Ben Smith (2), Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty (2), Charlie Faumuina, Luke Romano. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (6), Aaron Cruden. Penalty: Israel Dagg.
Argentina – Try: Santiago Cordero. Conversion: Nicolás Sánchez. Penalties: Sánchez (5).
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortéga Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images