New Zealand held on by the skin of their teeth for a 20-16 victory over Argentina in a tense Rugby Championship clash at Velez Sarsfield on Saturday.
An All Blacks side lacking several top players led 20-9 at halftime but failed to score in the second half and were indebted to their defence for denying the Pumas a first-ever victory over New Zealand in 29 tests.
Fullback Emiliano Boffelli scored Argentina’s only try two minutes into the second half, catching and grounding a fine kick into the All Blacks’ in-goal area by flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez.
The Pumas then dominated possession and territory but failed to score again, having another try ruled out by the TMO 13 minutes from the end after wing Ramiro Moyano put a foot in touch.
Argentina made a good start, taking a six-point lead with penalties from Sanchez and Boffelli in the opening six minutes and might have added a try but for some good defending by title holders New Zealand.
The All Blacks then got a grip on the match and forced the Pumas into mistakes that resulted in penalties which they converted into points with centre Ngani Laumape charging over from scrumhalf Aaron Smith’s tap penalty after 18 minutes.
Another Sanchez penalty restored Argentina’s lead but two penalties from Beauden Barrett had New Zealand back in front.
Lock Brodie Retallick then scored another ultimately decisive try just before the interval when he intercepted a Sanchez pass.
Argentina came out in the second half determined to make amends and could have cut the deficit to one point but for a rare penalty miss by Sanchez soon after their try.
Yet they had the All Blacks on the back foot for long spells.
Argentina believed they had their best-ever chance to break their duck against New Zealand, especially after the Jaguares, the team that provides most of the Pumas players, reached the Super Rugby final, where they lost to Crusaders two weeks ago. Pumas captain Pablo Matera said: “We are very disappointed and we didn’t play as well as we can (in the first half) but with work we are getting closer.”
Back row forward Luke Jacobson, who made his All Blacks debut off the bench, said they had lacked some rhythm.
“There were a lot of stoppages which I didn’t expect but then it was the first match of the year so a few errors come along, but I’m sure we’ll be able to sort that out pretty quickly,” he told reporters.
Asked if it was the hardest match the All Blacks had ever had against the Pumas, he said: “It was my first match so I can’t really say but there were four points in it, it was bloody close and it went down to the wire.”
Apart from a draw between the sides in Buenos Aires in 1985, the closest Argentina had come to victory before Saturday was a 24-20 defeat at the River Plate stadium in 2001.
South Africa beat Australia 35-17 in the day’s other match in Johannesburg to go top of the table with a bonus point after scoring five tries.
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