The All Blacks scored four first-half tries on their way to a comfortable 36-17 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
There is no stopping this All Blacks side. They’ve now secured five successive bonus-point wins in the Rugby Championship, while extending their overall winning streak to 16 Tests.
Despite the fact that the All Blacks made several changes to their match 23 for this clash, it made simply no difference as they played with precision and pace on attack, while demonstrating insatiable linespeed on defence.
New Zealand will now make their way to South Africa to take on the Boks in their final Rugby Championship encounter, and it’s hard to see them having much trouble in completing an incredible competition clean sweep.
Indeed, if there were any doubts about the energy and intensity that the All Blacks would bring into Saturday's game after completing a long journey to Argentina, and with the Rugby Championship title already in the bag, those would have been dispelled early on.
Whereas New Zealand looked to have been caught somewhat offguard when Argentina played with plenty of pace at the start of their last encounter in Hamilton, this time the Kiwis kicked off proceedings with real intent.
Within the opening half an hour, the All Blacks had made more than double the amount of metres (236 to 108), while they put boot to ball on just six occasions as their peerless handling in contact once again featured.
Initially, it took some time for them to wear down the Argentinian defence, but after an early penalty from Beauden Barrett, centre Anton Lienert-Brown broke through to score as the visitors finally converted pressure into points just before the half-an-hour mark.
In the lead-up to that try, All Blacks captain Kieran Read twice turned down the opportunity to have a shot at goal as the champs interestingly backed their impressive scrum to come good against the Pumas, and as is so often the case, their bravery was duly rewarded.
And although the hosts managed to draw three points back soon after through the boot of Nicolás Sánchez, the All Blacks promptly responded by demonstrating their clinical finishing and lethal ability to punish opposition’s mistakes during an incredible triple strike just before the break.
First Ryan Crotty was put away to score after a Pumas lineout went awry in their own 22, while a charged-down kick then provided the opportunity for Dane Coles to dot down with less than a minute to play in the opening half.
At that point, it looked as if the All Blacks would take a highly satisfactory 24-point lead into the break, but they still weren’t done, with a scintillating breakout from the very next kick-off eventually resulting in TJ Perenara diving over to score his side’s fourth try as the half-time hooter sounded.
In the blink of an eye, the All Blacks had emphatically opened up an unassailable 29-3 lead, while surely serving to break the Pumas’ spirit.
That certainly seemed to be the case when some superb handling once again provided the space Ben Smith to dart round and score soon after the restart, and from there the game was effectively over as a contest.
Argentina were offered somewhat of a lifeline, though, when All Blacks prop Joe Moody was sent to the sin bin for a swinging arm. In his absence, the Pumas quickly gained the upper hand at scrum time, and it was from the back of this dominant set piece that No 8 Facundo Isa was finally able to score.
It did represent a momentum shift as Argentina camped in All Blacks territory, while the visitors’ penalty count started to creep up, with flanker Liam Squire eventually also shown a yellow card for repeated infringements.
Argentina couldn't make any further impression on a 26-point deficit during the time Squire was off the field, but fullback Joaquín Tuculet would score one late consolation try as the home side at least added some respectability to the scoreline in an uninspiring second half.
Argentina – Tries: Facundo Isa, Joaquín Tuculet. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez, Santiago González Iglesias. Penalty: Sánchez.
All Blacks – Tries: Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Dane Coles, TJ Perenara, Ben Smith. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (4). Penalty: Barrett.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 23 Matías Orlando.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Damian McKenzie.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Image