Argentina vs. New Zealand: Winners and Losers from Rugby Championship Clash

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2014

Argentina vs. New Zealand: Winners and Losers from Rugby Championship Clash

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    Ross Setford/Associated Press

    New Zealand won their third successive Rugby Championship on Saturday after beating Argentina 34-13, extending their lead at the top of the table and outside the Springboks' grasp.

    The All Blacks met little resistance from their South American hosts and will take the result as a big confidence boost before next Saturday's tournament closer in South Africa, which is now no more than a fixture of pride.

    Five rounds in and New Zealand looked as fresh as ever in clinching yet another trophy for their collection. The biggest winners and losers from the result are discussed in more detail ahead.

Winner: Malakai Fekitoa Showing Potential to Be Ma'a Nonu's Upgrade

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    A broken arm picked up by Ma'a Nonu several weeks ago may have left other teams in a pickle, but when Steven Hansen has a reserve like Malakai Fekitoa to call upon, one's "concerns" become rather manageable.

    And any fears over rustiness or a lack of experience were quickly put to bed by the 22-year-old. The All Blacks praised him for his first-half display, which included the construction of a try for Israel Dagg:

    It appears that any potential concerns about Malakai Fekitoa's readiness look to have been put aside with a strong first half so far.

    — All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 27, 2014

    Fekitoa's placement in the starting XV is so refreshing because he offers something so new for Conrad Smith to work from. It's almost as though the veteran No. 13 is having a slight rebirth of his own thanks to that differing style.

    As opposed to Nonu's brute-force tactics, Fekitoa is of a more elusive character, and his acceleration through the slightest of gaps is a thing to behold at times.

    The Highlanders star finished his evening with 53 metres from 12 carries, a tally of four defenders beaten and a highlight reel of inspired play to boost his reputation in the international ranks.

Loser: Daniel Hourcade's Defensive Dirge

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    It's always difficult to judge a team, particularly in defence, after taking on a squad like New Zealand, but Daniel Hourcade would agree that the best teams serve as the finest barometers of skill.

    And in the pursuit of self-improvement, tackling is something that needs looking at for Argentina's head coach after the showing in La Plata, as all but three of his starting XV missed at least one tackle.

    As aforementioned, it almost seems unfair to score the Pumas when taking on some of the best runners of the ball in world rugby, but these were simple issues at times—basics like locking up in the grapple.

    Miscommunication also played its part as the hosts put themselves in difficult positions time and time again, and fatigue only contributed to that downfall as the clock wore down.

    The Pumas show plenty of promise going forward and with their technique ever improving, but it's a shame to see defensive lapses both on the individual scale and team-wide afflicting their growth.

Winner: Quicker Initiative Puts All Blacks in Unassailable Position

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    It seems strange to believe, but this weekend's fixture was the first time in the 2014 Rugby Championship that New Zealand have managed to score a try before the 26-minute mark.

    The All Blacks have known the lack of speed for some time but have always been able to address it. Their strength typically lie in finishing strong as opposed to getting off the mark in sprint mode.

    However, showing some initiative will only advance their cause further, and Ben Smith's 11th-minute score helped put the visitors in a lead that the Pumas were forced to chase with limited success.

    Controlling the tempo of the tie allowed New Zealand to effectively shut Argentina out and make light work of any hopes in a second-half revival. Their quick beginning proved pivotal in La Plata on Saturday.

Loser: Manuel Montero Shows Chinks in His Armour

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    Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

    The rugby world has gone a bit Manuel Montero loopy of late, and for good reason considering the winger's record of 14 tries in 16 Argentina Tests, but on Saturday, his defensive lapses were exploited all too frequently.

    New Zealand's first two tries both came down the youngster's flank as he was caught out, whether due to a lack of communication with his inside men or more simple (and addressable) errors.

    Granted, this is the All Blacks we're talking about, so no-one of such youth can be lambasted so heavily for falling victim, but it's an area in which he might look to improve as his development progresses.

    Ben Smith is a great example of a player whose proficiency in attack is among the world's elite, but his defensive awareness often goes undervalued in what makes him such a complete package.

    Having already shown extreme hints of the former, it's time for Montero to start balancing out his potentially world-class game.

Winner: Israel Dagg Reminds World He's Nobody's Understudy

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    Struggling with injury and stellar competition for places in Hansen's lineup, the world forgot about Israel Dagg for a time, a criminal sin considering how successful a star he was in 2013.

    Ben Smith rose to occupy the fullback role with aplomb for some time, but Dagg had another successful outing in La Plata. He gave a statement of why he's back in the debate over deciding upon the world's best No. 15.

    Albeit a long time until he enjoys another wave of hype like the one that came about last year, the Canterbury star was a major menace to the Pumas on Saturday. He racked up 64 carrying metres by half-time, more than Julian Savea, Conrad Smith and Ben Smith put together.

    Not until Dagg produces the same success against truly world-class competition will his position be truly cemented, but for now, Hansen's back three looks set in stone and with no evident weak joint available.

    After falling off the radar for a period, Dagg is going about re-announcing his status in terrific fashion, grabbing his first 2014 Rugby Championship on Saturday.

    All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.