Too fast, too strong, too clinical and just too good. That sums up the All Blacks' win over a spirited Argentina side, as they bagged seven tries to run in 54-15 winners in La Plata.
They finally showed the form they’ve been looking for all season, gaining dominance up front, holding their passes and taking their chances to deliver their best performance of the Rugby Championship. Try as they might, Argentina just couldn’t contain such a rampant All Blacks side, struggling with the pace and skill level of their more experienced opponents.
It wasn’t this way from the start though, as Argentina muscled up and showed some good attacking flair in the first 15 minutes to put the All Blacks under plenty of pressure.
In this time the Pumas were able to score a try, manipulating the All Black defence with a brilliant back-line move to open the scoring. To go with this they forced the All Blacks to kick a lot of ball and their physical defence caused a number of handling problems.
But the All Blacks kept their composure and from the 15th minute onwards appeared in full control of the game. They began shifting the ball wider and forcing the big Argentina forwards to run more, eventually playing at a pace they just couldn’t keep up with.
The back line was simply lethal running, operating off a good platform set by the forwards and being serviced well by Aaron Smith. Daniel Carter controlled things well, ghosting through the defence on a number of occasions and using his outsides well.
Outside him Ma’a Nonu was devastating, running strongly and never missing a beat on defence. Indeed the whole team was outstanding on defence, causing the Pumas to make far too many mistakes with their fast line speed, physicality and good organisation.
The back three were all outstanding, finally getting the chance to show how lethal they can be when given the ball in some space. Julian Savea continues to show how much he’s improved, scoring two tries and having a hand in Cory Jane’s second. He was dangerous with ball in hand, whilst tackling well, and was busy around the field. If he continues to improve the way he has been, it is safe to say he will be a very good All Black for a long time.
On the other wing Cory Jane was good too, bagging three tries and proving safe under the high ball once again. His work rate was outstanding, following the ball and consequently scoring two tries down the opposite wing. His third was a brilliant show of opportunism, speed and strength, as he came up with an intercept and ran 50 meters to score in the corner, fending off Juan Martin Hernandez in the process.
Kieran Read and Richie McCaw were immense once again in the loose forwards, showing why many regard them as the world’s two best players. Both were brutal on defence, whilst Read also ran well, hitting the gaps well and showing good ball skills throughout.
These two were joined by Liam Messam, who had another quiet game, and one must wonder if Victor Vito would be a better option in the No. 6 jersey.
As a collective the forwards were as good as they’ve been all year, getting onto the front foot and providing the backs a good platform to work with. The set piece was good in general, whilst they also proved adept with ball in hand.
However where they really had it over the Pumas was in their fitness, running their opponents off their feet to the point where many Argentine forwards were down to a walk. It was this as much as anything that was responsible for such a dominant performance.
Argentina tried hard and looked dangerous at times but just weren’t clinical enough to cause any damage. They fought hard in the contact areas and were strong around the fringes. But they struggled once the All Blacks started moving the ball and fell off too many tackles to expect to win. On attack they dropped too much ball, squandering far too many chances.
But it was a learning experience, and they certainly showed for 15 minutes that they can compete at this level. They just need time to adapt to the frenetic pace that the All Blacks play at.
The All Blacks will now travel to South Africa with the Rugby Championship trophy already in the bank, to take on the Springboks in Soweto in their final game of the competition. Argentina meanwhile will host Australia in a game that is a prime opportunity to claim their first win in the Rugby Championship.