NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand, Sep 9 – The All Blacks unleashed “the beast” as they came from behind to beat a fired-up Argentina 39-22 in a Rugby Championship Test in New Plymouth on Saturday.
Blindside flanker Vaea Fifita turned the game 10 minutes in to the second half when he outsprinted Argentinian flyer Santiago Cordero over 50 metres to score a crucial try when the All Blacks were down by seven points.
It opened the way for a finishing burst in which they scored 24 unanswered points to remain unbeaten after three matches in the championship.
Coach Steve Hansen had billed Fifita as a “real physical beast” before the game and the 25 year-old did not disappoint using his 1.96 (6ft 5in) metre, 113 kilogramme (249 lb) frame to crash his way through Los Pumas.
It was only Fifita’s second Test and Hansen said afterwards he can only get better.
“I dont think he’s the finished product. He’s got a long way to go. But it’s a tank that’s got plenty in it and our job now is to bring that out and his job is to work on his game and get better and better and reach his potential.”
It was a Test the All Blacks were never expected to lose and they won the try count six to one.
But they were made to struggle for long periods by an Argentinian side determined to prove they still belong among the leading rugby nations.
Los Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade rated it his side’s best performance of the year after back-to-back losses against South Africa.
But they lost their way when they had a one-man advantage with All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett in the sin-bin.
“It was really a tough game and perhaps our best, but the All Blacks showed the best of what they have when they have a player in the sin bin, they played really well.”
In the first half, as the All Blacks continued to suffer from the indecision and handling errors that plagued them in their last Test against Australia, Argentina were quick to cash in.
They led 16-15 at half-time and stretched the lead to 22-15 with two quick penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita’s try brought the All Blacks back into the game.
On a cold wet night, once the All Blacks had weathered Los Pumas’s initial onslaught, they put the first points on the board when Damian McKenzie scythed through the Argentine backline to put Nehe Milner-Skudder over for the try.
When Nicolas Sanchez replied with a close-range penalty, the All Blacks were immediately back on the attack with Anton Lienert-Brown winning the race for the ball to score off a Beauden Barrett chip kick.
Los Pumas picked up another three points with a long-range penalty by left wing Emiliano Boffelli from a metre inside his own half and closed within one point at 10-9 with a second Sanchez penalty.
After Israel Dagg scored the All Blacks third try, Argentina came back to take the lead on the stroke of half-time, and from an All Blacks error when they lost a defensive lineout and Tomas Cubelli, a key player in the Argentinian attack, sent Sanchez over for the try.
Boffelli and Sanchez landed further penalties at the start of the second half before Fifita’s try which, with Lima Sopoaga’s conversion, levelled the score at 22-22.
Sopoaga had taken over the kicking after Barrett had a woeful night in front of his home crowd, missing three conversions and being yellow-carded.
Damian McKenzie stretched the lead with the All Blacks fifth try and after a Sopoaga penalty, Barrett atoned for his errors with a late try.