New Zealand survived some nervy moments to pick up a 20-16 victory over Argentina in their opening Rugby Championship game of 2019 in Buenos Aires.
Despite not scoring a point in the second stanza, the All Blacks managed to keep their noses in front at full-time to deny the Pumas a famous win.
Ngani Laumape and Brodie Retallick crossed for New Zealand in the first half, while Beauden Barrett kicked two conversions and two penalties.
In reply, the Pumas scored a try through Emiliano Boffelli, who also added a penalty, while Nicolas Sanchez added two penalties and a conversion.
New Zealand would have been delighted to head into the break leading 20-9 after an evenly contested opening half at Jose Amalfitani Stadium.
They were six points down with as many minutes on the clock after Sanchez and Boffelli landed a penalty goal each, following two All Black offences.
However, there was a drastic change in momentum on 16 minutes after fly-half Barrett’s chip kick ahead put Argentina in all kinds of bother. Penalty offences would then go against the Pumas before a quickly taken tap by Aaron Smith led to Laumape crashing over under the uprights.
Sanchez did manage to nudge the hosts back in front at 9-7 on 21 minutes, but Barrett responded soon after as the lead changed hands again.
At this point New Zealand were still on top and closed out the half strongly, with Barrett’s second penalty then followed up by Retallick crossing on the stroke of half-time. The lock galloped over untouched from 40 metres out after gleefully collecting a wayward Sanchez pass.
The first 20 minutes after the break was all Argentina, however, as Sanchez’s high kick under a penalty advantage saw Boffelli collect and go over. That proved the confidence booster the Pumas needed and they were unlucky not to have cut the lead further after a missed penalty.
At 20-16 down the Pumas knew they could not let the All Blacks regroup and needed to keep the pressure on, as both sides went to the bench.
Argentina did go agonisingly close to scoring on the left wing, but Ramiro Moyano’s foot was in touch before he got his offload back inside. Despite their disappointment it seemed like the hosts would have at least one more opportunity in the closing nine minutes to seal a famous win.
That opportunity came in the dying moments from an attacking line-out five metres out, but their maul was stifled to extinguish any hopes of victory, as New Zealand held on to claim four points on the road before heading home to Wellington to face South Africa.
Argentina – Tries: Emiliano Boffelli. Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez. Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (2), Emiliano Boffelli.
New Zealand – Tries: Ngani Laumape, Brodie Retallick. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2). Penalties: Beauden Barrett (2).
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Joaquin Tuculet.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Jordie Barrett, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)