All Blacks off to winning start

17 Jul 2015
All Blacks off to winning start

New Zealand kicked off their Rugby Championship campaign with a comfortable 39-18 win over Argentina in Christchurch on Friday.

Impressive at scrum time, the All Blacks showed their power in defence and attack in the first half, running in two tries through Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu, allowing them to take an 18-6 half-time lead.

Despite two second-half tries from Agustin Creevy, it was the All Blacks who controlled things, running in three more scores through Charles Piutau, Kieran Read and debutant Codie Taylor.

The key to the game was the difference in defence, with New Zealand able to knock back runners all day long, while the Pumas were constantly on the back foot.

With quick ball, they created plenty of opportunities, and were never really in danger, giving McCaw and Dan Carter a fitting farewell for their final games in Christchurch.

Argentina had rested a number of experienced players, putting in faith in the likes of Guido Petti and Facundo Isa, who impressed last November, as well as promising winger Santiago Cordero.

In contrast New Zealand were playing the most experienced side in Test history, despite the absence of the likes of Conrad Smith, Julian Savea and Sam Whitelock. There was an All Black debut for Waisake Naholo, the Highlanders winger who topped the try-scoring charts in Super Rugby this season.

Argentina struggled to make inroads early on, and when Nicolas Sanchez was charged down by Read, the All Blacks swarmed to the ball with McCaw earning a penalty that Carter converted to make it 3-0.

However after winning the first penalty of the game, the All Black skipper was then penalised for killing the ball in a ruck, allowing Sanchez to level the scores after 11 minutes.

The All Blacks had barely touched the ball in attack, but once they finally did, they started to cause Argentina problems.

First Carter added his second penalty before McCaw popped up for the first try of the game. After a long period in the Pumas 22, New Zealand won a penalty which they kicked to touch. They produced a clever maul, shifting the point of attack to send McCaw up against two backs, and he wasn't going to be stopped from close range. Carter was off-target with the conversion but New Zealand led 11-3.

On debut, Naholo had looked dangerous, and he made a searing break on the half-hour, sprinting past halfway after getting the ball in his own 22. Argentina were impressing at the breakdown though, and produced a stunning counter-ruck to earn a penalty.

Marcelo Bosch missed from just inside his own half, but Sanchez made no mistake a minute later to cut the deficit to five.

Carter was then just wide with a penalty from the left, but it seemed poetic justice after a very harsh call on Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

As they so often do, New Zealand finished the half with a flourish, thanks to some great individual work by Nonu. The in-form Hurricanes centre got the ball out wide and held off two tackles to power over, with Carter's conversion making it 18-6 at the break.

One of the few issues for the All Blacks in the first half had been Carter's kicking, and he missed a third shot at goal right at the start of the second half, albeit from halfway.

Argentina then failed to chase their 22 drop-out though, and New Zealand needed no second invitation, opening up the space for Piutau to dart over. Carter's extras made it 25-6 to the hosts.

It could have got even better for the All Blacks, but Naholo knocked on and stepped into touch when he looked certain to score after some good work from Sonny Bill Williams.

By this point it was one-way traffic, and when Argentina were again caught in their own 22, Read popped up to nick the ball off Horacio Agulla and race over untouched to stretch the lead even further.

Finally New Zealand started to concede the odd penalty, allowing Argentina to set up camp in the All Black half. And when they kicked to the corner, Creevy went over for his first Test try in similar fashion to McCaw in the first.

The rolling maul was working for Argentina, and when they got another opportunity, Creevy went over again, with Sanchez converting to make it 32-18.

The comeback wasn't really on, and any slim hopes were killed off when New Zealand went back up the field, with their replacement front row making a big impact.

After winning a scrum against the head, Taylor, on debut, popped up to burrow over from close range, with Carter adding his fourth conversion of the game.

That was how it remained until the end, with New Zealand setting themselves up nicely before next week's trip to South Africa. Argentina will hope to bounce back at home to the Wallabies, with a number of players set to return.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: McCaw, Nonu, Piutau, Read, Taylor
Cons: Carter 4
Pens: Carter 2

For Argentina:
Tries: Creevy 2
Con: Sanchez
Pens: Sanchez 2

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jeronimo De la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 5 Guido Petti, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)