New Zealand battled past a committed Pumas side to eventually grind out a 21-5 win at a rain-soaked Westpac Stadium.
New Zealand battled past a committed Argentina side to eventually ground out a 21-5 Rugby Championship victory at a rain-soaked Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
The world champion All Blacks, number one in the world and undefeated since beating France in the RWC final last year, were hanging on the ropes for three quarters of the match until two quick-fire tries secured a hard-fought win.
It was a bad case of dÃ©jÃ vu for the visitors, who – just like they did in their last meeting with NZ in last year's RWC quarter-final – kept the home side tryless until a five-pointer in the 67th minute from Julian Savea gave the All Blacks some breathing space.
Another touchdown from Cory Jane five minutes later sealed the deal for New Zealand as Argentina simply ran out of gas after trailing 6-5 at half-time.
Difficult conditions meant both sides were never going to produce champagne rugby, but the tourists will take satisfaction from another respectable scoreline. Indeed, the Pumas once again refused to be push-overs and rattled the home side through some courageous defence that forced the All Blacks into making uncharacteristc mistakes.
But as the weather calmed in the second period so did New Zealand as the men in black gained control to claim their third of the tournament, while the Pumas now have two losses and a draw.
The All Blacks made their intentions clear from the start by playing a wide game despite the conditions, however the Pumas well-organised defence kept the hosts at bay. Fly-half Aaron Cruden missed an early penalty attempt, but found his target 10 minutes in to put the hosts 3-0 ahead.
Argentina hit back brilliantly though a try to veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero who powered over from close-range after the Argentinian pack followed up on an earlier knock-on from Ma'a Nonu who lost the ball in contact. Martin Rodriguez's conversion attempt hit the post and bounced wide, but the crowd were stunned to see their beloved All Blacks trailing 3-5.
Nerves were settled slightly when Cruden slotted his second penalty to nudge New Zealand back in front (6-5) in the 25th minute, after a ruck infringement by Roncero.
The All Blacks were denied a chance to open up a significant lead on the stroke of half-time when, with Victor Vito in full flight down the left wing, Marcelo Bosch produced a crucial try-saving tackle and took the flanker into touch.
The severe winds caused a half-time power-cut at Westpac Stadium – a mishap that stretched the normal ten-minute interval to 27. The scrappy Test match continued after the lights came back on, and it didn;t take long for Cruden to stretch his side's lead to four points (9-5).
But the hosts were immediately on the back foot again following the restart, but Rodriguez missed an excellent chance to cut the deficit back to one point after pushing an attempt from bang in front.
New Zealand finally started to click and threatened to score before flank Julio Farias Cabello was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and the writing was on the wall for Pumas who were now forced to battle on with 14 men.
As the game neared its end, the All Blacks finally gave themselves a comfortable position with 13 minutes to go after Conrad Smith drew three defenders before offloading to Nonu who unselfishly gave the glory to Savea in the corner.
And Jane soon dived over for a second try after racing onto a long miss pass from Cruden which was ruled not to be forward. Cruden landed an excellent conversion from far out on the right to seal the deal.
Man of the match: Argentina pivot Juan Martin Hernandez stood out for both his hard tackling and tactical nous, while once again Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe led admirably from the front. All Blacks centre Conrad Smith was the best of the backs and tried his best to create chances. But we're giving this gong to lock Luke Romano who did everything asked of him for 80 minutes, including taking all his line-outs as well as flying up in the air to challenge the Pumas' throws on every occasion while his work in the tight was immense.
Moment of the match: There weren't many. But whilst the two touchdowns by Julian Savea and Cory Jane buried the brave Pumas, it was prop Rodrigo Roncero's try that warned the All Blacks that the visitors meant business and weren't in the windy city to make up the numbers.
Villain of the match: Whilst Julio Farias Cabello saved a certain five-pointer with his deliberate slap-down of the ball, the ensuing yellow card gave the All Blacks a one-man advantage and it was only a matter of time before they scored their first try.
For New Zealand:
Try: Savea, Jane
Pens: Cruden 3
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Ben Smith.
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (c), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 TomÃ¡s Leonardi, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
By Dave Morris