Clinical seven-try All Blacks clinch title in La Plata

AFP, LA PLATA, Argentina, and Pretoria

Mon, Oct 01, 2012 - Page 20

New Zealand ran in seven tries to crush Argentina 54-15 on Saturday and win the inaugural Rugby Championship title with a game to spare.

The clinical and merciless world champions recovered from conceding an early try to score four and build a 32-8 halftime advantage before a capacity 53,000 crowd at the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata.

Argentina also started the second half well and scored another try, only for the All Blacks to once more wrest control and right wing Cory Jane completed the rout in the final minute with his third touchdown.

Fellow wing Julian Savea crossed the line twice, and scrumhalf Aaron Smith and center Ma’a Nonu once each, with the rest of the points coming from the boots of fit-again Dan Carter and the man who replaced him at flyhalf, Aaron Cruden.

Carter, who missed the previous two rounds of the southern hemisphere championship with a calf injury, slotted three conversions and two penalties, while Cruden kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Outstanding scrumhalf Martin Landajo, who made a series of sniping runs, and right wing Gonzalo Camacho scored a try each for Argentina, while flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez kicked one conversion and one penalty.

“We had a plan and stuck to it, taking every opportunity that came our way,” New Zealand captain and flanker Richie McCaw said after the most one-sided of 10 Championship matches. “Patience was a key factor in our success tonight, as we often went through one or two extra phases to create openings. We also forced the Pumas into a lot of errors.”

Disconsolate Argentina No. 8 and skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said: “We learned some hard lessons out there against opponents who played really, really well.

“We tried everything, but could not stop them, so now we must turn our attention to the match against Australia next weekend, and try and finish our campaign on a high note,” he said.

It was a sad night for the Pumas, who entered the game hoping to test the All Blacks after holding South Africa in Mendoza, matching the All Blacks for 60 minutes in Wellington and nearly defeating Australia on the Gold Coast.

They failed in Australasia because they could not last the pace, but that was irrelevant in this city south of Buenos Aires as the All Blacks gave their finest performance of the Championship to record a fifth consecutive victory.

Winning with a bonus point lifted New Zealand to 21 points, followed by South Africa (12), Australia (8) and Argentina (3) with the final fixtures scheduled for next weekend.

The Springboks, boosted by a 31-8 victory over Australia in Pretoria earlier on Saturday, square up against the All Blacks at Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, while Argentina confront Australia in Rosario.

Landajo got Argentina off to a dream start with a try on eight minutes, crossing after a brilliant break by fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino carved a hole in the New Zealand defense, but the visitors hit back eight minutes later when Nonu exposed poor defending by bursting through the middle and sending Smith over between the posts, for a try Carter converted to give the All Blacks a lead they never surrendered.

Carter kicked a penalty and converted a try by Jane, who scored after a superb one-handed offload from No. 8 Kieran Read, before Hernandez landed a penalty to raise hopes of a Pumas revival as the deficit was trimmed to nine points.

However, Savea went over twice before the break and although Carter lost his goalkicking touch, with three misses out of eight, it did not matter as the All Blacks scored as many tries in La Plata as they did in the previous four Tests.

Earlier in Pretoria, South Africa changed the emphasis from kicking to running with the ball and scored five tries to crush Australia at Loftus Versfeld.

Veteran right wing Bryan Habana ran in three and there was one each for fullback Zane Kirchner and flank Francois Louw as the Springboks ended a run of five losses against the Wallabies after leading 14-3 at the break.

Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, who took over the kicking duties after new flyhalf Johan Goosen missed two early shots at goal, completed the scoring with three conversions.

Poor kicking was the one disappointment as the Springboks got back on the winning trail after a three-match winless run as Pienaar failed with four penalty attempts.

Australia have been plagued by injuries throughout the Championship and it only got worse at Loftus with numerous casualties, including center Adam Ashley-Cooper, who was taken to hospital with concussion before the break.

The visitors had to play the last eight minutes a man short after making all seven replacements and they were also reduced to 14 men early in the second half when replacement prop James Slipper was sin-binned.

Kurtley Beale, making his first start at flyhalf for the Wallabies, kicked a first-half penalty and replacement back Mike Harris went over in the corner for a try after the Springboks had built a 23-point advantage, but razor-sharp Habana had the final say, rounding off another good handling movement in the final minute to raise his career total to 46 tries against demoralized opponents.