The All Blacks retained the Rugby Championship with a 34-13 bonus-point victory over Argentina in La Plata on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
It was a thoroughly professional showing from Steve Hansen's team as they wrapped up their third consecutive title with consummate ease. The scrum was steadfast in the face of the Argentinian onslaught, while normal service was restored at the lineouts following the return of Sam Whitelock.
It was their variation on attack and near-perfect execution with their tactical kicking game that set them apart, with Beauden Barrett slipping seamlessly into the No 10 jersey vacated by Aaron Cruden.
The Argentinians weren't without their moments, but they were sporadic at best, as the gruelling Rugby Championship seems to have caught up with their limited squad.
Barrett got things underway with two early penalties before Ben Smith coasted over for the first try following a slick backline move involving Malakai Fekitoa and fullback Israel Dagg.
Los Pumas were starved of possession early on, but showed plenty of intent and a willingness to have a go with what ball they did manage to get their hands on. Nicolás Sánchez got them on the board with a penalty after Dagg was penalised for a late charge on Tomás Cubelli.
Sánchez then missed badly from his second attempt and the All Blacks capitalised. Their backs once again found space on the outside, with Smith returning the favour by laying on a try for Dagg. Sánchez responded for Argentina with a late penalty, but the Pumas went in trailing 20-6 at half-time.
It would remain that way until the 57th minute, as the All Blacks eschewed kickable penalties in search of tries. It was worth the wait as Julian Savea, who had earlier seen a try disallowed, brushed aside three Argentinian defenders to power over for his 27th Test try in as many matches.
Savea was also heavily involved in the try that effectively sealed the title, another free-flowing move that started with a scrum on their own 22m line. Israel Dagg, who seems back to his best, broke the first line of defence before the ball was shifted left. Jerome Kaino powered on and found Savea, whose delightful pass to TJ Perenara encapsulated the supreme skills this iteration of All Blacks currently possess.
Argentina had the last say with a try from substitute Horacio Agulla, but they were well beaten on the day.
The All Blacks will travel to South Africa with the Rugby Championship safely in the bag and they will no doubt be looking to continue their winning run against the Springboks, which currently stands at five consecutive matches.
Argentina – Try: Horacia Agulla. Conversion: Nicolás Sánchez. Penalties: Sánchez (2).
New Zealand – Tries: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Julian Savea, TJ Perenara. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3). Penalties: Barrett (2).
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Benjamin Macome, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Matías Cortese, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Horacio Agulla.
New Zealand – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Cory Jane.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Photo