The All Blacks unleashed “the beast” as they came from behind to beat a fired-up Argentina 39-22 in their Rugby Championship Test in New Plymouth yesterday.
Blindside flanker Vaea Fifita turned the game 10 minutes in to the second half when he outsprinted Argentina flyer Santiago Cordero over 50m to score a crucial try with the home side down by seven points.
It opened the way for a finishing burst in which they scored 24 unanswered points to remain unbeaten after three matches in the championship.
Coach Steve Hansen had billed Fifita as a “real physical beast” before the game and the 25-year-old did not disappoint, using his 1.96m, 113kg frame to crash his way through Los Pumas.
It was only Fifita’s second Test and Hansen said afterward he can only get better.
“I dont think he’s the finished product,” Hansen said. “He’s got a long way to go, but it’s a tank that’s got plenty in it and our job now is to bring that out and his job is to work on his game and get better and better and reach his potential.”
It was a Test the All Blacks were never expected to lose and they won the try count six to one.
However, they were made to struggle for long periods by an Argentina side determined to prove they still belong among the leading rugby nations.
Los Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade rated it his side’s best performance of the year after back-to-back losses against South Africa.
However, they lost their way when they had a one-man advantage with All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett in the sin bin.
“It was really a tough game and perhaps our best, but the All Blacks showed the best of what they have when they have a player in the sin bin, they played really well,” Hourcade said.
In the first half, as the All Blacks continued to suffer from the indecision and handling errors that plagued them in their previous Test against Australia. Argentina were quick to cash in.
They led 16-15 at halftime and stretched the lead to 22-15 with two quick penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita’s try brought the All Blacks back into the game.
On a cold, wet night, once the All Blacks had weathered the visitor’s initial onslaught, they put the first points on the board when Damian McKenzie scythed through the Argentina backline to put Nehe Milner-Skudder over.
When Nicolas Sanchez replied with a close-range penalty, the All Blacks were immediately back on the attack with Anton Lienert-Brown winning the race for the ball to score off a Barrett chip-kick.
Los Pumas picked up another three points with a long-range penalty by left wing Emiliano Boffelli from a meter inside his own half and closed within one point at 10-9 with a second Sanchez penalty.
After Israel Dagg scored the All Blacks third try — seeming to sell a dummy to the touch judge — Argentina came back to take the lead on the stroke of halftime from an All Blacks error when they lost a defensive lineout and Tomas Cubelli, a key player in the Argentina attack, sent Sanchez over for the try.
Boffelli and Sanchez landed further penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita’s try which, with Lima Sopoaga’s conversion, leveled the score at 22-22.
Sopoaga had taken over the kicking after Barrett had a woeful night in front of his home crowd, missing three conversions and being yellow-carded.
Damian McKenzie stretched the lead with the All Blacks fifth try and after a Sopoaga penalty and Barrett atoned for his errors with a late try.
In Australia, South Africa fought back from a 10-point deficit to secure a 23-23 draw with the hosts in their Rugby Championship clash in Perth to remain unbeaten in six Tests this year.
Center Jesse Kriel and hooker Malcolm Marx crossed for the Springboks, who dominated the breakdown and set piece, but were unable to convert late pressure into points that would have given them a sixth successive win.
Livewire center Kurtley Beale and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau scored tries for the Wallabies, who showed plenty of attacking endeavour, but remain winless in the competition after back-to-back losses to New Zealand.
The Springboks face the world champions in New Zealand next week, while Australia are to host Argentina in Canberra.
Additional reporting by Reuters and staff writer
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