New Zealand made it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship with a 28-13 victory over Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday.
New Zealand made it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship with a 28-13 success over Argentina at a wet Waikato Stadium on Saturday.
Victory was tinged with concern, however, for the All Blacks as Richie McCaw suffered a knee injury that puts him in doubt to take on the Springboks.
McCaw now has seven days to recover for the clash at Eden Park or Steve Hansen will be forced to start Sam Cane in their biggest test of 2013.
It was a nervy start from both sides but the early signs were good for Argentina, particularly at scrum time as they won themselves a penalty.
And their opening would get even better on six minutes when New Zealand's debut centre, Francis Saili, spilled a ball on his 22 that allowed Argentina to shift the attack left with quick hands to where Juan Manuel Leguizamon was waiting. Nicolas Sanchez's conversion made it 0-7.
Dan Carter would respond from the kicking tee five minutes later following a line-out offence, moving through the 1,400 point mark in international rugby. Despite returning number ten Carter missing his second and third attempt at goal from distance, New Zealand were now in the ascendency in a wet Hamilton.
And boy did they turn the screw. Two tries from Aaron Smith whilst Argentina's Eusebio Guinazu was in the bin for an offside offence propelled New Zealand to a 15-7 lead. His first score was all down to Kieran Read's brilliance, the number eight sending out a nigh on impossible offload close to the left touchline that allowed Smith to dive over five metres out.
Smith would not have to wait long for his double too as this time Carter's breakout from his 22 led to Ben Smith chipping over before the Highlanders nine grounded. Things were not rosy for Carter however – despite racking up 100 plus running metres in the first period – as he wasn't enjoying a great evening off the kicking tee, enduring a two from five record. Sanchez however was in excellent form, cutting the gap to five points going into the break.
The scrum would again play a major part in proceedings after the interval as first Carter and then Sanchez sent over three points to make it 18-13 on 52 minutes. The Pumas though suffered a blow early in the half as Gonzalo Camacho went off with a dislocated shoulder.
New Zealand meanwhile were beginning to make pre-planned changes as Andrew Hore and Dan Carter were replaced before the hour mark, the latter's last act seeing him send over two points after Julian Savea had scored an opportunistic score. It again came from Read as this time his charge down of scrum-half Martin Landajo's attempted box kick led to the ball being moved left across the backline. It was now 25-13 as the All Blacks pounced.
But on 60 minutes came the moment New Zealand did not want to see as captain McCaw would hobble off with a knee injury, just one week before facing South Africa. Cane emerged with Read taking over the captaincy but all the fresh legs fragmented the game somewhat as there would be no score until five minutes before the end, Beauden Barrett knocking over three. In truth, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe's pull back on Saili's shirt warranted a card.
Had the Pumas been reduced to fourteen men then maybe the All Blacks would have had a sniff of claiming the try bonus point. As it was, they must be satisfied with a third straight win as preparations begin ahead of Auckland and that massive clash with South Africa.
Man of the match: Outstanding from Kieran Read. His offload for Aaron Smith's first try was worth the entrance money alone while he played a key role in Julian Savea's fine score.
For New Zealand:
Tries: A Smith 2, Savea
Con: Carter 2
Pen: Carter 2, Barrett
Pen: Sanchez 2
Yellow: Guinazu (23 mins – offside)
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (capt), 5 Julio Farias Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamin Macome, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me GarcÃ¨s (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Assessor: Lyndon Bray