NEW PLYMOUTH – The All Blacks unleashed “the beast” as they came from behind to beat a fired-up Argentina 39-22 in a Rugby Championship Test in New Plymouth on Saturday.
Blindside flanker 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 1.96m, 113kg 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 rugby 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 halftime 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 halftime, and from an All Blacks error when they lost a defensive lineout 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 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.
New Zealand 39 – Tries: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Anton Lienert-Brown, Israel Dagg, Vaea Fifita, Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2). Penalty: Sopoaga (1).
Argentina 22 – Try: Nicolas Sanchez. Conversion: Sanchez (1). Penalties: Sanchez (2), Emiliano Boffelli (2). Drop goal: Sanchez (1).