New Zealand’s 28-13 victory over Argentina was a tougher contest than many predicted, but it showcased the world champions’ ability to win despite producing a scrappy performance.
Looking beyond just the scoreline, this Rugby Championship clash proved certain positive and negative aspects of each squad to be true, with some obviously faring better than others.
The win puts Steve Hansen’s All Blacks in an even more commanding position as they look to maintain their perfect record throughout the remainder of the tournament. But it also highlighted one or two weaknesses for the victors.
Just as they did against South Africa a fortnight ago, Argentina started in a higher gear than their opponents in Hamilton.
Pumas No. 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon was again the man to pounce on the opposition’s lacklustre start by crossing the whitewash within four minutes of kickoff.
However, the result again showed that while South American passion might allow Argentina to create commanding positions, they aren’t yet good enough to maintain them—especially against the world champions.
But Santiago Phelan’s side attacked with gusto, chased well and took the fight to New Zealand from the start in a manner which should be a valuable asset to them in the future.
All Blacks’ Spirit
Argentina’s quick start may have troubled the All Blacks, but it also provided Saturday’s hosts with the opportunity to again assert themselves as stubborn world giants.
Just as they have done time and again in the past, the sheer resolve and will to win was enough to push New Zealand through for victory.
Richie McCaw, Israel Dagg, Conrad Smith and other leading All Blacks recovered to fight fire with fire by matching the intensity of the Argentinians.
If anything, the early dent to New Zealand’s pride could have ultimately gone against the South Americans’ hopes of mounting a surprise win.
By scoring two of New Zealand's three tries, Aaron Smith showed why he can claim to be one of the best scrum-halves in world rugby.
Aaron Smith’s tries showed great initiative and an eagerness to make a real difference. He first latched on to the ball after some fine work from Kieran Read and then benefited from some astute Ben Smith footwork.
Considering the difficult wet conditions, Aaron Smith also did well to maintain such a strong presence at the back of the scrum when handling errors were in abundance.
New Zealand Pack
Despite the encouraging win, the All Blacks saw Richie McCaw hobble from the pitch with a painful looking knee injury.
Against the strength of Pumas flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, McCaw was his usual disruptive self, winning balls for the All Blacks and proving a nuisance for Argentina.
Judging by the look on McCaw's face, the injury could be a serious one and there has to be a doubt that he will be available for the remaining fixtures of the Rugby Championship.
Another loss, another Argentine performance where a lack of discipline proved to be a vital weakness in their game.
One could argue that the South Americans have no choice but to infringe due to the pressure they are under, the fact they’re in those positions points out where things are going wrong.
Hooker Eusebio Guinazu again trotted off to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin, just as he did in Argentina’s opening match against South Africa.
New Zealand took advantage of Guinzau's absence and it proved costly for the Pumas as they conceded both Aaron Smith tries.
Sir Graham Henry
Although former All Blacks coach Graham Henry was involved in last year’s Rugby Championship, this defeat marked the occasion of his first trip back to New Zealand as a senior member of the Pumas coaching set up.
The loss will perhaps have affected Henry more than others in the Argentine camp on an evening of mixed emotions for the World Cup-winning coach.
Henry’s return to Hamilton wasn’t what he was hoping for and he will have been as eager as anyone to get one over on his old side.