All Blacks defeat Argentina to take title

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James Mortimer     29 Sep 2014     Getty Images

The victory, New Zealand’s fifth in the tournament this year, ensures that The Investec Rugby Championship trophy is locked up for the 13th time in 19 tournaments.

It also extended the All Blacks record streak in the competition, now with 17 straight matches without defeat since Argentina was added to Southern Hemisphere’s premier international competition.

In captain Richie McCaw’s 133rd All Blacks match, drawing level with the great Sir Colin Meads, the world’s number one ranked team will be happy with the victory over the tenacious Pumas who are showing more verve and intent with every outing.

However it is the performance of a changed squad that would have impressed the coaching staff and confirmed what they have known for some time that the team dynamic is strong enough to ensure consistency regardless of the players selected.

Beauden Barrett had arguably his best game in an All Blacks jersey, running play superbly with ball in hand while his kicking woes in Napier were put aside with a perfect six from six from the tee.

Malakai Fekitoa did everything asked of him and more, adding a direct element that allowed the All Blacks to attack off the front foot.

Keven Mealamu looked fresh and fit, Sam Whitelock returned from injury to last an entire match, and Steve Hansen finally got to blood a new Test rake.

Los Pumas, who were unable to make their scrum dominant thanks to a solid platform from the tourists, would have been frustrated with this match not because of the loss but that they had the All Blacks defence backpedalling on numerous occasions.

Coach Daniel Hourcade’s desire to see his team play compelling offensive rugby was on display, with Argentina running the ball from deep on numerous occasions.

At one point Los Pumas put together an 11 phase, 78 metre breakout run that almost led to a try, but for the bulk of the contest New Zealand’s scrambling defence operated well.

Barrett kicked the first points of the match over in the 2nd minute when it looked as if Argentina may have pulled down an All Black in the air, and five minutes later the Hurricanes first five-eighth knocked over his second.

While Argentina were making heavy tackles early, the visitors were looking to play an open game at pace, with Julian Savea especially prominent throughout.

The first try of the match was beautiful.

Mealamu found his target in the lineout which led to the backs attacking the line flat, and Israel Dagg took the ball on the angle and screamed around the Pumas defence.

A lovely assist from the All Blacks fullback was fed to Ben Smith who would score with 11 minutes passed.

While New Zealand would score four tries, it would take moments of black magic to decipher the passionate Argentinean screen.

The scrum battle, despite one or two shoves from Los Pumas, was by and large even, but the early endeavour from the hosts earned little reward until Nicolas Sanchez kicked over his team’s first points in the 16th.

It would be Smith who would set up the second try, after a hard run from Fekitoa led to the wing taking the ball and then floating up a short pass to Dagg who would cross for the All Blacks second.

In the 31st minute Los Pumas would come close to scoring, but while they were finding metres, the final embellishments were preventing the home side from scoring tries of their own.

A second penalty to Sanchez would make it a 20-6 game at halftime.

The final stanza saw Argentina continue to push, with the tournament’s best ruck retention team (with 96%) having little difficulty in piling up the phases or mounting the pressure.

It was Savea who was the menace however, first being denied a try off a little wiper kick from Barrett, but minutes later the wing would score his 27th Test five pointer.

With Aaron Smith throwing a wickedly flat pass, Savea took the ball on the left flanks and charged in field through three Pumas defenders to make it 27-6 with 57 minutes up on the clock.

Argentina would empty their bench looking for spark, and would have elongated periods with ball in hand but the All Blacks defence seemed to lift as the match progressed.

When the TMO confirmed TJ Perenara’s try, off an impossible pass from Savea who offloaded despite the attention off the defence, New Zealand would earn their fourth try and in the process secure the title.

With 72 minutes gone, the warrior Mealamu would leave the field making way for Nathan Harris to make his All Blacks debut.

The gutsy Pumas were not finished however, upping the tempo in what would have been a pleasing sign for the team’s fitness levels, and when reserve back Horacio Agulla scored Argentina’s first try the crowd of over 52,000 erupted.

The only potential injury concerns for the All Blacks will be over Brodie Retallick and Wyatt Crockett who both left the field.

With the Springboks defeating the Wallabies 28-10 in Cape Town, the All Blacks 21 competition points ensures they cannot be overhauled.

The game also saw the World Champions extend their unbeaten run to 22 Test matches.