All Blacks surge past Pumas
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH REPORT: New Zealand showed their class as they surged back to the top of the standings with a comfortable 39-22 won over Argentina in New Plymouth on Saturday.
The All Blacks again showed that when the chips are down - especially in the final quarter of a game - they can shift into overdrive and race away.
In the end they outscored Los Pumas by six tries to one - despite going a man down at a crucial stage in the second half.
Blindside flank Vaea Fifita turned the game with a 50-metre try 10 minutes into the second half when the All Blacks were down by seven points.
Coach Steve Hansen had billed Fifita as a "real physical beast" before the game and the 25 year-old did not disappoint using his 1.96 metre, 113 kilogramme frame to crash his way through Los Pumas.
It was a Test the All Blacks were never expected to lose and they won the try count six to one.
But they were made to struggle for long periods by an Argentinian side determined to prove they still belong among the leading nations.
As the All Blacks continued to suffer from the indecision and handling errors that plagued them in their last Test against Australia, Argentina were quick to cash in.
They led 16-15 at half-time and stretched the lead to 22-15 with two quick penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita's try brought the All Blacks back into the game.
On a cold wet night, Los Pumas pressured the All Blacks line from the kickoff with Nicolas Sanchez taking an ambitious but unsuccessful drop goal attempt.
But once the black machine settled, gaps started to open and it was only a matter of time before Damian McKenzie scythed through the Argentine backline to put Nehe Milner-Skudder over for the opening try.
Sanchez was quickly back in the action with a close-range penalty as Argentina found the All Blacks defence too difficult to penetrate and were reduced to earning points from kicks.
The All Blacks were immediately back on attack with Anton Lienert-Brown winning the race for the ball to score off a Beauden Barrett chip kick.
Los Pumas picked up another three points with a long-range penalty by left wing Emiliano Boffelli from a metre inside his own half and closed within one point at 10-9 with a second Sanchez penalty.
After Israel Dagg scored the All Blacks third try, Argentina came back to take the lead on the stroke of half-time, and from an All Blacks error when they lost a defensive line-out and Tomas Cubelli, a key player in the Argentinian attack, sent Sanchez over for the try.
Boffelli and Sanchez landed further penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita's try which, with Lima Sopoaga's conversion, levelled the score at 22-22.
Sopoaga had taken over the kicking after Beauden Barrett had a woeful night in front of his home crowd, missing three conversions and being yellow-carded.
Damian McKenzie stretched the lead with the All Blacks fifth try and after a Sopoaga penalty, Barrett atoned for his errors with a late try.
Man of the match: You can look at a couple of regulars for Argentina - hooker Agustin Creevy and flyhalf Nicolás Sanchez. However, when it mattered most the New Zealanders stood up - players like hooker Dane Coles, prop Joe Moody and captain Kieran Read. Our award goes to rookie All Black loose forward Vaea Fifita - for his enormous workrate, powerful carries and crucial try.
Moment of the match: At first it looked as if Beauden Barrett's yellow card early in the second half might turn the game in favour of the visitors, but then up stepped flank Vaea Fifita with a brilliant and very crucial try a couple of minutes later to turn the momentum back in favour of the All Blacks - while they were a man down.
Villain: There is only one candidate - New Zealand flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who has become a serial offender - too often killing the ball when a try is on for the opposition. His collection of yellow cards for this type of offence tells a story all of its own.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Milner-Skudder, Lienert-Brown, Dagg, Fifita, McKenzie, Barrett
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sanchez 2, Boffelli 2
Yellow card: Beauden Barrett (New Zealand, 49 - cynical foul, killing the ball close to his own line)
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Ngani Laumape.
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 4 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 3 Nahuel Tetaz, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Matías Orlando.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com