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SPORTS | 01-10-2018 12:39

Match report: New Zealand beat Argentina to win sixth Rugby Championship

Mario Ledesma offers hope to teams who will challenge New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup, saying the world champions are not 'untouchables.'

New Zealand won the Rugby Championship for the sixth time by beating Argentina 35-17 in Buenos Aires on Saturday as they put a stunning home defeat by South Africa behind them. 

The All Blacks led 21-3 at half-time before a sell-out 50,000 crowd and scored first in the second half through substitute Patrick Tuipulotu.

Victory gave New Zealand an uncatchable seven-point advantage over South Africa ahead of their showdown in Pretoria next Saturday.

New Zealand have 21 points, South Africa 14, Argentina eight and Australia five with one round remaining in the southern hemisphere championship.

A shock 36-34 triumph in Wellington this month gave South Africa a glimmer of hope that they could overtake New Zealand and win the competition a first time. But they failed to secure a bonus point as they ground out a 23-12 win over struggling Australia in Port Elizabeth earlier on Saturday.

That result left the All Blacks needing a win to secure the title and they outscored the Pumas by five tries to two to collect a bonus point as well.

No All Black was happier than fly-half Beauden Barrett who was successful with all four of his conversion attempts after missing four of six against the Springboks.

Argentina were first to score with star fly-half Nicolás Sánchez slotting an easy penalty after six minutes at the Estadio José Amalfitani.

But New Zealand reacted swiftly to falling behind and within two minutes were ahead as winger Rieko Ioane scored the first of his two tries.

Fellow winger Waisake Naholo came into midfield and played a key role in a move continued by Ben Smith before Ioane cut inside to score and Barrett converted.

Sonny Bill binned

Sánchez seemed certain to cut the gap to a single point from a close-range penalty but, to the amazement of the crowd, fluffed it.

Naholo changed from creator to scorer on 17 minutes, stretching to dot the ball down on the line after the scrummaging weakness of the Pumas was laid bare.

Barrett added the extra points and the world champions were 14-3 ahead midway through the half.

Ioane struck again with 30 minutes gone, scoring a try that infuriated the home crowd.

Codie Taylor appeared to knock the head of Bautista Delguy, but big-screen replays showed the New Zealander had been pushed first by an Argentine.

French referee Mathieu Raynal correctly awarded a try and Barrett converted from the touchline.

In-form Delguy was forced to retire after the accidental blow and Sebastian Cancelliere took his place on the right-wing.

Argentina finished the first half strongly after All Black Sonny Bill Williams was sin-binned, but could not translate territory and possession into points and the All Blacks led 21-3 at half-time.

Sánchez wasted an early second-half chance to reduce the deficit when his penalty intended for unmarked winger Matias Moroni fell short and into the welcome hands of Naholo instead. 

The Pumas were being let down at the set pieces with the All Blacks making life miserable for Argentina at the scrums.

Both teams scored two tries during the second half with Tuipulotu and Anton Lienert-Brown crossing for New Zealand and Barrett and Richie Mo'unga converting.

Tomás Cubelli and Emiliano Boffelli were the Argentine scorers and Sánchez added the conversions.

Threat

After a disastrous performance against the Springboks, the All Blacks were facing the possibility of their first-ever loss to Argentina and their first back-to-back losses since Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2011.

The All Blacks' title win was delayed when they were beaten by the Springboks two weeks ago. But in the end they completed their Championship victory Saturday with a depleted line-up. 

With a New Zealand pack missing captain Kieran Read and his preferred replacement Luke Whitelock, starting lock Brodie Retallick and regular blindside flanker Liam Squire crushed the Argentina scrum.

"I thought we started really well, didn't have the ball for the first bit but when we got our first opportunity we scored and the boys really took that and built as the game went on," stand-in New Zealand captain Whitelock said.

Whitelock said the All Blacks were determined not to let their loss to South Africa force them to depart from their natural, attacking game.

"If we see an opportunity we're going to take it," he said. "We don't want to be second guessing ourselves.

"Towards the end of the game we took a few of the older boys off and the young boys stepped up and finished strong. Argentina didn't allow us to run away with the game, they came back in that middle part. They've got some really good athletes and are really hard to stop."

The match wasn't of high quality as both sides made too many errors of handling and execution to allow it to rise to the epic quality of the last test between the All Blacks and Springboks. The Pumas also took a combative approach which stretched legality at times, repeatedly taking out All Blacks players off the ball.

The only yellow card of the match went against New Zealand when center Sonny Bill Williams, in only his second test of the season and his first since June, was sin-binned just before halftime for a second offside play near the All Blacks goalline.

The heroes for New Zealand were its forwards and particularly its front row in which props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe started in place of Joe Moody and Owen Franks. Both had superb games in scrums and around the field where both came close to topping the All Blacks tackle count.

Ledesma resurgence

Argentina had come into the match with some hope of ending its winless streak against the All Blacks which now stretches to 32 tests. The Pumas have made huge improvements under new coach Mario Ledesma this season, winning two matches in the Championship for the first time.

But they were at a heavy disadvantage when their scrum, formerly the strongest part of their game, fell to pieces, leaving them without a reliable platform for attacking play.

"I think we said before the game we want to be the team we really are," Cubelli said. "I think in the first half we weren't the team we have been all year. In the second half I think we played with a lot more energy but I think we have a lot of things to work on."

Ledesma offered hope Sunday to teams who will challenge New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup, saying the world champions are not "untouchables." 

The All Blacks are 11/10 favourites with some bookmakers to win the tournament a third consecutive time next year in Japan, the first Asian country to stage the rugby showpiece.  

But former Pumas hooker Ledesma was not impressed with New Zealand, despite their 35-17 victory. 

"I thought the All Blacks were not very clinical," said Ledesma. "They dropped the ball a lot and lost a lot of line-outs. They are not untouchables. It was not the normal New Zealand team that we played against, but we failed to take advantage of the situation. My team made as many line breaks as the All Blacks only to waste scoring opportunities while they took full advantage of theirs." 

Ledesma also slammed his team after suffering a third defeat in five matches since succeeding Daniel Hourcade as coach in the middle of the year.

"All I asked of my boys before the match was that they should be themselves, but I did not recognise some of them at times. Had we played better, especially during the first half, the All Blacks would have come under a lot more pressure. We struggled in the set pieces and it was embarrassing to watch New Zealand dominate us in the scrums. What really upset me was that we did not do the simple things, the basics, properly. You cannot fail to do that and hope to beat the All Blacks. 

"Some of the scrums and line-outs offered attacking opportunities for us and we failed to take them," lamented the 45-year-old coach, who won 84 caps for the Pumas.

Argentina skipper and hooker Agustín Creevy backed Ledesma, saying: "We were not ourselves during the first half." 

 

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