All Blacks hold off persistent Pumas
REPORT: A 12-minute period towards the end of the first half set New Zealand up to claim a 36-17 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires in Round Five of the Rugby Championship.
Two yellow cards to the All Blacks aided the Pumas as they staged a comeback from 3-29 behind at half-time to outscore their rivals 14-7 during the second half without ever threatening to win.
Victory moved New Zealand, who clinched the southern hemisphere title in the previous round, closer to a world-record 18 consecutive victories. The reigning world champions will achieve that feat if they defeat South Africa in Durban on October 8 and Australia in Auckland on October 22.
New Zealand needed just 124 seconds to go ahead as Argentina flank Pablo Matera was penalised and flyhalf Beauden Barrett slotted an easy penalty. Argentina responded with plenty of ball-in-hand attacks and skipper Agustin Creevy was unlucky when incorrectly penalised with the try-line in his sights.
The speed with which the All Blacks attacked whichever Los Pumas had possession was a feature of the first quarter, as was the power of Argentine No.8 Facundo Isa during his surges. When New Zealand were awarded a close-range penalty in front of the posts after 24 minutes, they opted for a scrum.
A second penalty in almost the same position resulted in another scrum and this time the gamble of seeking seven points instead of a safe three paid off as Anton Lienert-Brown dived over and Barrett converted.
Argentina's toil deserved some reward, though, and they trimmed the 10-point deficit by three when flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez effortlessly stroked a penalty between the posts.
Israel Dagg was stopped just short of the Argentine try-line, but it would not be long before New Zealand unleashed their full attacking might with devastating effect.
Their second try came gift-wrapped from Creevy. He overthrew at a line-out just metres from his line, All Blacks captain and No.8 Kieran Read stole the ball and set in motion a move that ended with centre Ryan Crotty dotting down.
Lienert-Brown set up the next try by blocking a kick from centre Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias and Dagg broke free to send hooker Dane Coles over. Barrett converted both tries and the clinical finishing of the visitors had created a 24-3 advantage as half-time neared.
But the men in black were not thinking of the break and struck again when a Crotty break down the left culminated in scrumhalf TJ Perenara darting over. Barrett failed for the first time with a shot at goal, his conversion veering right, but New Zealand had a 26-point half-time advantage.
The rampant visitors scored again five minutes into the second half as Lienert-Brown shrugged off two tackles to create a try for fullback Ben Smith and Barrett kicked his fourth conversion.
New Zealand were temporarily reduced to 14 men when prop Joe Moody was sin-binned for swinging an arm at Sanchez in an off-the-ball incident. His absence was quickly felt as Isa scored a pushover try beside the post that Sanchez converted.
Loose forward Liam Squire later became the second All Black to be sin-binned and fullback Joaquin Tuculet scored an Argentine try which Iglesias converted to round off the game's scoring.
Man of the match: There were plenty of players who put their hands up from both teams. Agustin Creevy certainly led from the front, although one mistake led to an All Blacks try. Martin Landajo pushed the tempo while Matias Moroni and Nicolas Sanchez were the generals. The loose trio of Facundo Isa, Javier Ortega Desio, Pablo Matera showed that they can mix it with the best in the world. For the All Blacks, Brodie Retallick put in another big performance while Ardie Savea must have cemented his spot in the team with another strong all-round game. Beauden Barrett controlled matters nicely while Ryan Crotty wasn't afraid to get stuck in either. However, the one player who seemed untouchable for the most part, played an instrumental role in setting up two tries and got one of his own - Anton Lienert-Brown - gets our nod.
Moment of the match: Any of New Zealand's tries are worthy of a mention but there is nothing quite like seeing a strong Argentinian scrum push the mighty All Blacks backwards. It came after a number of strong scrums and led to Facundo Isa dotting down in the 57th minute.
Villain of the match: Both sides got a bit carried away in the second half as the off-the-ball niggles began to creep in. Up until the 52nd minute, things were all rosy until Joe Moody took matters into his own hands, or arm, by striking Nicolas Sanchez on the head after being cleaned out of a ruck.
Tries: Isa, Tuculet
Cons: Sanchez, Iglesias
For New Zealand:
Tries: Lienert-Brown, Crotty, Coles, Perenara, Smith
Cons: Barrett 4
Yellow cards: Joe Moody (New Zealand, foul play - striking an opponent, 52); Liam Squire (New Zealand, repeated infringements - offside, 65)
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Santiago González Iglesias, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (captain), 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.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 23 Matías Orlando.
New Zealand: 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 (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Damian McKenzie.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com