New Zealand held on to beat Argentina 16-20 in a humdinger of a Rugby Championship Test at Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires.
The World Champions were too good in the end, despite being on the ropes for most of the game, outscoring Argentina two tries to one.
The All Blacks won the game through dogged defence and the ability to make something out of nothing when it mattered (see Brodie Retallick’s try).
Argentina had the best chance in their history to get a famous win, but they could not get their driving maul going in the final siege of the New Zealand‘s line.
This was a Tango, and the famous dance from the streets of Argentina always ends in tragedy.
The Pumas were immense, the All Blacks sloppy, but they had the grit between their teeth.
It was a heart-breaking defeat for Mario Ledesma’s side, who dominated much of the contest.
Nicolás Sánchez will rue a missed kick that proved the difference.
His team won a string of penalties in the death throes, but they could not take the three points because they trailed by four.
Boffelli and Sánchez show
The stand-off was impressive after his return to South America from Europe. He controlled the game expertly, setting up Emiliano Boffelli’s try.
Boffelli and Sánchez scored all their team’s points and combined for the fullback’s score, but it was not enough.
Los Pumas will rue their decision making and lack of composure as mistakes made the difference in one of the country’s best opportunities to claim a first All Blacks scalp.
The game was error-strewn but entertaining, the intensity was fierce as Argentina scrapped with the heavyweight champions.
They had them on the ropes for much of the second stanza, but could not land the knock-out blow.
Ledesma’s men kept the All Blacks scoreless in the second half and they gifted the Kiwis their second try – small margins.
Both sides traded penalties and the lead as they looked to get a foothold in the match.
Ngani Laumape’s first-quarter try put the Kiwis in front after two Pumas penalties inside six minutes.
Retallick’s try on the stroke of half-time was a killer blow to the hosts; it opened up a sizable lead, one the All Blacks never give up.
Argentina struck early in the second half thanks to the class of Sánchez and Boffelli.
The flyhalf, however, missed a penalty soon after the fullback’s try, which would have made it 19-20.
New Zealand spent the rest of the second half under the pump, bending but not breaking, and holding out for a hard-fought victory in the fiery cauldron that is Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
A tight first-half sees the two teams trade blows as Argentina stay in the contest thanks to Kiwi ill-discipline
Sánchez opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty after Jordie Barrett’s infringement.
Boffelli doubled Los Pumas’ lead with a long-range penalty after Vaea Fifita’s ruck infringement, four minutes later. The fullback made the distance with ease.
Marcos Kremer went close, but he was repelled by Sevu Reece, who came off the right-wing to make the tackle.
Argentina tried to recycle quickly to the right, but Agustín Creevy, under pressure, knocked on, killing the opportunity.
Laumape crashed over on 18 minutes after some sustained pressure by the All Blacks inside the opposition’s 22.
Beauden Barrett’s easy conversion put the All Blacks ahead.
Sánchez and Beauden Barrett traded three-pointers as the intensity at the breakdown meant both sides shipped penalties.
New Zealand’s handling was errant; they made five inside the opening 25 minutes, which released the pressure on their hosts and halted any attacking momentum.
The World Champions camped inside Argentina’s 22 for the final 10 minutes of the half, yet, the home side kept them out.
Ben Smith and Dane Coles went close, but the danger was cleared with some gritty defending.
The pressure eventually told. Beauden Barrett added another three to the scoreboard three minutes before the break.
Sucker punch gives All blacks some breathing space on the stroke of halftime
A training ground move, with less than two minutes until the break, ended in disaster for Argentina.
Sánchez was intercepted by Retallick trying to do a backline switch.
Retallick ran 40 metres down the touchline to land the old try before halftime trick, made famous by the world’s best side.
Barrett slotted the sideline conversion, and just like that, Mario Ledesma’s men were 11 points behind.
Argentina strike first after the interval
Sánchez showed his class, launching a surprise cross-kick for Boffelli.
The fullback got up above Ben Smith and ripped the ball from his hands to score.
Sánchez added the extras, but he missed a relatively easy penalty on 51 minutes, which would have made it a one-point game.
New Zealand was shipping penalties as the Argentinian maul started to dominate.
The game opened up as both sides counter-attacked, winning turnovers and going wide. It was great viewing.
Argentina could not find a way to make their advantage count and almost suffered one of Beauden Barrett’s scything breaks that end in tries.
Sam Cane could not hang onto the ball and would have been away for all money.
Who would break first as the game entered the final quarter?
It was a continued theme throughout the Test as the visitor’s handling left much to be desired.
The Pumas were still in the hunt as the game entered the business end.
Moyano’s break almost led to Jerónimo de la Fuente scoring, but a TMO review showed the winger was tackled into touch by Jordie Barrett.
Argentina kept going, searching for that elusive victory over the best team in the world, but Steve Hansen’s side would not break.
The South Americans laid siege in the last minutes of this classic, but their driving maul let them down as the Kiwis held on.
Final Score: Argentina 16 (9) New Zealand 20 (20)
Tries – Boffelli
Pen – Sánchez (2), Boffelli
Con – Sánchez
Tries – Laumape, Retallick
Pen – B. Barrett (2)
Con – B. Barrett (2)
Referee: Angus Gardner (RA)
Assistant Ref 1: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant Ref 2: Alex Ruiz (FFR)
TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU)
15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Joaquín Tuculet.
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.