New Zealand were made to work very hard but got the job done by beating Argentina 33-10 to advance to the World Cup semi-finals.
New Zealand were made to work very hard but got the job done by beating Argentina 33-10 on Sunday to advance to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
The All Blacks were far from their best but teams seldom are in knockout rugby. What may be a concern to them though was the loss of Colin Slade to injury. Dan Carter's fly-half replacement left the field during the first stanza with a leg injury, being replaced by third-choice Aaron Cruden.
It was a scrum-half who stole the headlines though at Eden Park as Piri Weepu kicked 21 points, missing just one attempt on the night.
Seen as the dead-cert of the quarter-finals, it was always going to be critical for the Pumas to repel any swift score from the All Blacks. Which was exactly what they did whilst forcing some early mishaps from a nervous playmaker Slade. Quickly, most of the crowd noise was Argentina's.
But on twelve minutes the early Pumas stampede was finally weathered and New Zealand posted their first calming points via the boot of Weepu. It arrived following a line-out indiscretion which allowed the nine, arguably chosen to take the kicking load off Slade, to slot from 40 metres.
In 1987, these two battled to a 46-15 scoreline in favour of the All Blacks. However, any sort of a repeat was always going to be unlikely with times markedly different in 2011. So much so that, despite an almost try from number eight Kieran Read in the left corner, Argentina were more than standing steady going into the second quarter. Only a couple of set-piece offences proved their downfall as again Weepu was successful, this time on 25 minutes.
Argentina had never been trailing by more than six points in the 2011 tournament and they soon demonstrated why with a superb break off the base of their scrum seeing number eight Leonardo Senatore pierce the All Black defence before recycled ball led to Julio Farias Cabello crashing over due to a lapse in the home guard system. Felipe Contepomi added the extra two points for a 6-7 advantage which coincided with Slade departing the action.
New Zealand needed to, and ultimately did, recompose as they captured some of that early territory they had enjoyed previously. Weepu again was on the mark from the kicking tee as the Pumas' lead was short-lived. The visitors had however silenced Eden Park and given themselves belief of the impossible. They would have to come back from 12-7 down though in the second-half following another penalty being awarded. Weepu was four from four.
Still though the Pumas would not roll over as they did not hang around with their task at hand. Marcelo Bosch it was who landed a long-range penalty that brought them back to within two points. New Zealand, who were without Test centurion Mils Muliaina for the second-half, again hit back soon after though in what was turning into a ding-dong battle. Very few had expected such a close-fought encounter to decide who would play Australia.
Nevertheless, the home side were beginning to take a grip on the game towards the hour mark and almost crossed the whitewash when Richie McCaw stretched for the post protector. Television match official Shaun Veldsman though otherwise however, in a passage that coincided with Nicolas Vergallo being shown a yellow card. Things were starting to look bleak for the Pumas, who were camped on their own line for long periods as New Zealand went for the kill. Consolation for the All Blacks was another advantage having been played during those aforementioned phases, which opened up a key two-score lead.
And that was the cushion the All Blacks needed as they continued to enjoy their territorial and phase dominance that saw Kieran Read left unattended to wide on the left wing. New Zealand were 23-10 to the good as the game approached its final ten minutes and Argentina's challenged neared its end. Weepu added another three to his personal tally in the closing stages before Thorn iced the nervous yet measured display. Australia next.
Man of the match: A near faultless kicking display from Piri Weepu sees him take the award. He marshalled well from the base and seems to have secured the nine jersey.
Moment of the match: It was tit for tat for long periods at Eden Park before Kieran Read put the game to bed with a try wide out. Argentina had a mountain to climb after that score.
Villain of the match: All clean and fair at Eden Park.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Read, Thorn
Pens: Weepu 7
Yellow card: Vergallo (Argentina – 58th min – professional foul)
Argentina: 15 MartÃn RodrÃguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (capt), 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Santiago FernÃ¡ndez, 9 NicolÃ¡s Vergallo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel LeguizamÃ³n, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 AgustÃn Creevy, 17 MartÃn Scelzo, 18 Marcos Ayerza, 19 Alejandro Campos, 20 Alfredo Lalanne, 21 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 22 Juan Jose Imhoff.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sonny Bill Williams, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan, George Clancy
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman
By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park