The All Blacks survived an almighty scare against Argentina to secure a 26-16 win at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday, having trailed by one point at half-time. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Argentina have never beaten New Zealand, but, boy, did they threaten to rewrite history on Sunday. The impressive Pumas overcame an early nine-point deficit, and held a lead until the 57th minute, but eventually the All Blacks’ composure and class shone through.
Two tries within 10 minutes restored order as the defending champs finally wore down a gallant Argentine side, with their superior conditioning coming to the fore.
On an opening weekend when a number of unfancied teams punched above their weight, none more so than Japan, there was a very real sense that this could be a competitive battle, with Argentina having shown signs of their improvement during the Rugby Championship.
The Pumas were guilty of ill discipline early on, though, conceding seven penalties in the opening quarter, and All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter duly slotted three penalties to open up a handy lead.
However, it would turn out to be a half of two halves as the momentum completely shifted in the 21st minute when Argentina lock Guido Petti finished off the first try of the match after some impressive build-up play.
Another turning point came some 10 minutes later when All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw was yellow-carded for a cynical trip, and what would have been a scrum to New Zealand turned into a penalty for Argentina, which was well taken by flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez.
Suddenly, the Pumas were in the lead after half an hour of play, and another great try-scoring opportunity was squandered when Sanchez dropped the ball as an overlap loomed, and the All Blacks looking uncharacteristically rattled.
Just as the crowd at the Brighton Community Stadium got behind the underdogs, Japan, against the Springboks on Saturday, so they began to vociferously cheer on the Pumas.
A World Cup record crowd of some 89 000 found their voice again when New Zealand centre Conrad Smith was sin-binned after a breakdown infringement in the 38th minute, with Sanchez putting Argentina into a 13-9 lead.
Carter did manage to reduce the deficit to one point with another penalty just before the break, but Sanchez quickly restored the Pumas’ four-point advantage just after the restart.
The All Blacks had a golden opportunity to retake the lead a few minutes later, but wing Nehe Milner-Skudder dropped a simple pass with the tryline at his mercy, with the off-load having come from Sonny Bill Williams, who made an immediate impact after coming off the bench.
New Zealand would have their first try of the World Cup just before the hour mark, though, with scrumhalf Aaron Smith darting over after the defending champs bravely opted to kick a penalty to the corner.
With momentum restored, and Argentina’s resolve finally beginning to wane, replacement Sam Cane dotted down under the posts in the 67th minute to help open up a 10-point buffer.
From there the All Blacks never looked like surrendering the lead, and with some relief, celebrated the first win of their campaign.
All Blacks – Try: Aaron Smith, Sam Cane. Conversion: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (4).
Argentina – Try: Guido Petti. Conversion: Nicolas Sanchez. Penalties: Sanchez (3).
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernandéz, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martin Fernandéz Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images