Richie McCaw (AP)
La Plata - New Zealand proved they are worthy world champions by overwhelming Argentina in this coastal city to win the maiden Rugby Championship, skipper Richie McCaw said on Sunday.
The All Blacks recovered from conceding an early try by running in seven to triumph 54-15 at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata and take an unassailable nine-point lead over second-place South Africa with one round to go.
A surprisingly easy victory stretched the winning run of New Zealand to 15 matches - three short of the record held by Lithuania - with Tests in South Africa and Australia next month before a November tour of Europe.
"It was one of our best performances this season," flanker and long-time captain McCaw said of the record win by the All Blacks in seven Tests on Argentine soil.
"When we started out in the Championship the goal was to put last year behind us. We have got the tag of world champions and we needed to play like them," he told a media conference.
"To secure the Rugby Championship was obviously the big goal and it is nice to be able to do that. We gave a performance the guys are pretty happy with. It is the manner in which we did it that was so satisfying."
McCaw, 31, from the Canterbury-based Super Rugby outfit Crusaders takes a long break after the Rugby Championship - renamed when Argentina joined the former Tri-Nations this season - to try and prolong his international careeer.
Coach Steve Hansen, a 53-year-old who succeeded Graham Henry after hosts New Zealand edged France 8-7 last October to lift the World Cup a second time, said his team still needed to improve after its pace and power pummeled the Pumas.
"We can pat ourselves on the back and enjoy the moment, but there are still areas to improve on and one of them in the connection between the forwards and the backs.
"To be able to attack like that you must have a platform to work off so the forwards can be very proud. Our rucking was also much better than against South Africa."
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan said his team made too many defensive errors as they conceded only one try less in La Plata than they did in four previous Championship Tests in Cape Town, Mendoza, Wellington and on the Gold Coast.
"We set out to try and do things better with the ball, but took a step back in our defensive organisation. Some of the tries stemmed from our mistakes - others from the effectiveness of the All Blacks."
Martin Landajo, an impressive scrumhalf who scored the brilliant opening try of the game, said New Zealand defended and attacked so well, but believes a first Championship win is possible when they host Australia in Rosario.
Earlier next Saturday, the Springboks square up against the All Blacks at the 90 000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto, hoping to exact revenge for a 21-11 loss in Dunedin this month when they fluffed seven of nine kicks at goal.