All Blacks survive Los Pumas onslaught
MATCH REPORT: Depleted New Zealand survived a second-half onslaught from Argentina to win a Rugby Championship first-round match 20-16 in Buenos Aires Saturday.
After trailing by 11 points at half-time, the Pumas kept the All Blacks scoreless in the second half only to fail narrowly in their quest for a first victory over the world champions.
New Zealand chalked up a 450th Test win despite resting many of the Crusaders stars who won a third consecutive Super Rugby title two weeks ago.
Clinical finishing helped the All Blacks to a 20-9 half-time advantage, but the Pumas scored early in the second half to leave just four points separating the teams.
Playmaker Nicolas Sanchez missed a kickable penalty soon after that would have reduced the gap to a single point before a large, passionate home crowd.
A measure of the dominance of the home team was that it took the visiting side 33 minutes of the second half to get into the Argentine 22.
At the death, the Pumas forced two lineouts close to the All Blacks line, but the try that would have given them a historic victory proved elusive.
Argentina made an encouraging start with Sanchez and Emiliano Boffelli slotting penalties inside seven minutes for a six-point lead at Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
The home team squandered a chance to increase the advantage when a brilliant Sevu Reece tackle on Marcos Kremer forced the Puma to knock-on with the line at his mercy.
New Zealand scored the first of two opening-half tries on 18 minutes with Ngani Laumape powering over between the posts after a quick Aaron Smith tap penalty.
Beauden Barrett converted and the All Blacks had a 7-6 advantage that lasted only two minutes before a second Sanchez penalty nudged Argentina ahead again.
But those proved to be the last points scored by the South Americans in the half as New Zealand took control to add 13 unanswered points through a converted try and two penalties.
Brodie Retallick scored the try and Barrett kicked the conversion and two penalties to take him past 600 points in his Test career.
The try, a minute before half-time, stunned the home crowd as Retallick intercepted a Sanchez pass and ran unchallenged to the line.
It was a bitter blow for Argentina, who did not deserve to be trailing by 11 points as they ran off the field.
Argentina need to score first in the second half to claw back into contention and they did on 47 minutes when Boffelli won an aerial duel with Ben Smith and scored.
Sanchez, the architect of the try with a lofted kick toward the tryline, converted.
Man of the match: For Argentina, the Pablo Matera was a tremendous figure. He made 12 carries and more than a handful of tackles. The other Argentine who stood out was Jeronimo De La Fuente who was very commanding in the backline. For New Zealand, Ngani Laumape proved to be a threat on attack. However, for his overall game which included a few carries and also massive hits our nod goes to New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick.
Pens: Sanchez 2, Boffelli
Tries: Laumape, Retallick.
Cons: Beauden Barrett 2.
Pens: Beauden Barrett 2
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Joaquín Tuculet.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Jordie Barrett, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)