The All Blacks claimed a 46-24 bonus-point win against a committed Argentina in Nelson on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The All Blacks made seven changes to the team that clinched the Bledisloe Cup in Auckland two weeks ago, but were still too strong for a confident Pumas side that had beaten the Boks in Mendoza.
Flank Shannon Frizell was the most impressive of the hosts’ fringe players to be given a starting opportunity, with prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, scrumhalf TJ Perenara and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga not too far behind.
The Pumas dominated significant periods of this game – they had 55% of the possession and 56% of the territory – but didn’t always get the points they deserved, while they came off second best at scrum time. Still, coach Mario Ledesma will be proud of his team’s efforts.
The five log points from this win take New Zealand’s tally to 15 after three games and they are potentially just one win away from a 16th Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship title.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would have been a worried man when he lost three key players within the first 10 minutes of this match. Brodie Retallick appeared to suffer a wrist injury after falling awkwardly and while the star lock continued to play, he was eventually forced to leave the field. He was joined on the sidelines by Ngani Laumape (leg injury) and Ben Smith (head knock), with Samuel Whitelock, Anton Lienert-Brown and Damian McKenzie coming on. Smith would return, though, after passing his head injury assessment.
The All Blacks had opened the scoring when a scrum penalty allowed Mo’unga to kick his first Test points in his first Test start.
Nicolás Sánchez was horribly off-target with his first penalty-goal attempt, but the Pumas hit the front on the 15-minute mark when the ball went wide to Ramiro Moyano, who stepped in off his left foot and then back outside off his right to get past Mo’unga and Perenara and score a sensational try. Sánchez nailed the conversion.
The hosts responded almost immediately, after a storming run from Frizell. The flanker then showed great skill to offload during the next phase, which helped to put Nehe Milner-Skudder – making his first Test appearance since last October – over for a try. Perenara then darted over from close range on the half-hour mark to put the All Blacks 15-7 up.
The Pumas appeared to have got themselves right back into the game five minutes before the break when Sánchez broke away from inside his half and Bautista Delguy dived over in the right-hand corner. But the TMO ruled that the wing, who was tackled by Perenara, had brushed the touchline with his foot just before grounding the ball.
Argentina deserved points from that dominant period of play, yet it was Mo’unga who slotted another penalty after the half-time hooter.
The Pumas, though, needed just over a minute of the second half to score a try. They turned over possession from a routine restart and nine phases later, Sánchez threw a dummy and got on the outside of Owen Franks to score. Only some great work from Ardie Savea at the breakdown stopped another Argentina assault on their line soon after.
New Zealand needed someone to reignite their effort and Smith did exactly that when he burst through a hole in the defence to take play up to the 22. The ball was then sent wide, with Kieran Read doing well to barge his way over the tryline.
Sánchez’s 55th-minute penalty narrowed the gap to eight and took him past Felipe Contepomi as the Pumas’ leading Test point-scorer. But an aimless kick from the flyhalf gave the ball back to the All Blacks a few minutes later. After a patient buildup from the hosts, Lienert-Brown broke through a couple of tackles and put Perenara away for his second try.
The Pumas struck from a 5m scrum with 10 minutes to go when Emiliano Boffelli ran a perfect line to take a short Sánchez pass and score his side’s third try to make it 32-24.
But any hopes the visitors may have had of a famous comeback victory were extinguished when Frizell finished off a 16-phase All Blacks attack.
Jack Goodhue then scored a last-minute try to give his side the bonus point and the scoreboard a somewhat flattering look.
All Blacks – Tries: Nehe Milner-Skudder, TJ Perenara (2), Kieran Read, Shannon Frizell, Jack Goodhue. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (5). Penalties: Mo’unga (2).
Argentina – Tries: Ramiro Moyano, Nicolás Sánchez, Emiliano Boffelli. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (3). Penalty: Sánchez.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Argentina – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Marin Landajo, 8 Javier Ortego Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Augustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Gaston Cortes, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Bautista Ezcurra, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images