MARK KEOHANE reports that Piri Weepu kicked 21 points against the Pumas as the All Blacks advanced to the World Cup semi-finals.
The All Black won 33-10 after leading 12-7 at halftime. They will play the Wallabies for a place in the final.
Wales and France will contest the other semi-final. Both play-off matches will be in Auckland.
The bookies had the All Blacks to win by 20 points and while the result was never an issue All Blacks coach Graham Henry would have expected more patience and precision from his side.
Weepu, starting at scrumhalf, also assumed the goalkicking as flyhalf Colin Slade stuttered through another 30 minutes of World Cup agony.
Slade was as poor as he has been in every Test and when he hobbled off after 33 minutes you could almost sense the relief of a nation. Slade may yet come of age as a Test flyhalf but it won’t be at this World Cup. His replacement Aaron Cruden was an improvement and played with a calm and authority not seen from Slade.
The Pumas, courageous from the first minute, played to avoid humiliation. They offered nothing outside of bravery and referee Nigel Owens could easily have carded half the team for repeated infringements at the breakdown. Owens’s leniency meant a decent play-off work out for the All Blacks and kept the Pumas crowd interested for an hour.
Argentina remarkably scored the first try, against the run of play, to lead 7-6 after 30 minutes but the scoreline never reflected the flow of the contest. The All Blacks were superior in every aspect. Twice they were denied a try by TMO decisions and more often than not Argentina opted to concede the three points instead of a potential seven.
The hosts were effective in disrupting the Argentina lineout, poaching five from 11, but they would have expected to create more with the ball and territorial advantage. The Pumas made 135 tackles to the All Blacks 54 so they at least won something on the night. They also had the more inspiring supporters and the prettiest.
But there was nothing beautiful about the way they played and it was a case of damage control. They did not want to be whipped and recognised (as did every observer) that they did not have the skill to turn on the kind of spectacle produced in Wellington when Wales played Ireland.
The All Blacks, when they did show patience and respect for holding onto the ball, looked dangerous, but often the attack was too lateral. Wingers Sonny Bill Williams and Cory Jane had their moments and so did the midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The best of the backs was Weepu who has matured as a player and a leader. He showed on Saturday night that he does a bit more than lead the haka in this team.
Jerome Kaino was again impressive and Kieran Read improved with greater game time, but Richie McCaw played as if he only had one leg and the tight five as a unit were decent without ever being destructive.
Argentina is never an easy opponent and they will always offer a contest. But they lacked individual pedigree and collective belief to ever threaten the scoreboard and the All Blacks were predictable and deserved winners.