La Plata - A last-minute Ben Smith try gave New Zealand a bonus-point 33-15
Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in La Plata on Saturday.
The result moves the All Blacks five points clear of South Africa at the top
of the table ahead of a showdown at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next weekend.
Right-wing Smith struck for the second time in the match with just 27
seconds left, using brain and brawn to dive over and trigger celebrations.
New Zealand triumphed 54-15 at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata last season, but
it was a much closer contest this time with handling errors costing Argentina
dearly at times.
"It was tough out there and all credit to Argentina for pushing us so
hard," said New Zealand skipper and No 8 Kieran Read.
"We were great at times in the second half, giving us a lot of
positives to build on before facing the Springboks next weekend."
Argentina are still without a Championship victory since making their debut
last year, but this performance offers hope that they can overcome fellow
strugglers Australia next weekend.
"Are we ready to take on the Australians? Well, not right now,"
was the humorous response of Pumas captain and No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe
to a question.
"We must rest first, then prepare to throw everything into our final
game of the season against the Wallabies in search of a victory.
"New Zealand are a great team. They apply pressure all the time and
when you make a mistake, they are ruthless finishers."
Argentina had an early chance to take the lead from a long-range penalty,
but centre Marcelo Bosch saw his attempt drift well left.
Los Pumas switched goal-kickers for a shorter shot soon after and fly-half
Nicolas Sanchez made no mistake to nudge the home side ahead.
All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden, starting in place of injured Dan Carter,
levelled from a penalty four minutes later.
Sanchez restored the Pumas' advantage through another successful penalty and
missed a further attempt, leaving Argentina 6-3 ahead midway through the
But once again the lead was short-lived as left-wing Julian Savea snapped up
a loose ball in midfield and darted down the wing to go over in the corner.
Cruden was off target with the conversion only to be given a second chance
because a spectator shone a green laser at him.
The playmaker appeared unsettled by the incident and missed his second
chance as well with the ball again veering left of the near post.
Cruden did succeed with a penalty shot though, as did Sanchez, giving the
2011 Rugby World Cup winners an 11-9 lead at the break.
That changed to a one-point deficit four minutes into the second half as
Bosch comfortably slotted his second 50m effort between the posts.
However, the All Blacks were never prepared to trail for long and just two
minutes later Cruden kicked his third penalty of the game to reclaim a
New Zealand were looking increasingly dangerous on attack and flank Sam Cane
and Smith crossed the try-line within five minutes to push the visitors 26-12
Cane dived over in the corner after slick handling took the ball from one
side of the field to the other, but Cruden fluffed the conversion.
Smith claimed his sixth try of the Championship by bursting through the
middle after being set up by a moment of magic from veteran centre Ma'a Nonu.
Cruden converted this time before the rattled Argentines regained some
composure and Sanchez kicked his fourth penalty.
With 10 minutes left it was 26-15 to the All Blacks, but they needed one
more try for a bonus point and a five-point advantage over great rivals the
It appeared to have eluded them until Smith burst through and South Africa
must win with a bonus point and prevent New Zealand gaining any points to
snatch the title.
Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (4), Marcelo Bosch
Tries: Julian Savea, Sam Cane, Ben Smith (2)
Conversions: Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett
Penalties: Cruden (3)
15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Lucas
Gonzalez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Juan
Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7
Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4
Julio Farias Cabello, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza
16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano
Galarza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23
15 Israel Dagg,
14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron
Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam
Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew
Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt
Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Steven Luatua, 21
Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau