Blacks battle past Pumas

SIMON BORCHARDT saw the All Blacks score two tries in the final quarter to beat Argentina 21-5 in Wellington.

Wet weather is a great leveller and that proved to be the case here as the Pumas went into half-time just one point behind the world champions. But the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the visitors’ resistance predictably crumbled at the 60-minute mark after flanker Julio Farias Cabello was yellow carded for a deliberate knock down.

Soon after, Conrad Smith committed three Pumas’ defenders before sending Julian Savea away for a try that made it 14-5. And with five minutes to go, and the Pumas back to 15 men, a long pass from Aaron Cruden saw Cory Jane dive over in the right-hand corner.

The match had begun in driving rain and swirling wind, with the latter pushing Cruden’s first penalty attempt wide. The All Blacks flyhalf, who was a late replacement for the injured Dan Carter, then knocked on (a sign of things to come for his side) before succeeding with his second attempt at goal.

The Pumas had effectively slowed the Boks’ ball down at the breakdown in Mendoza but French referee Romain Poite was not so charitable in Wellington and they were pinned a couple times early on. However, that didn’t deter the visitors from flooding the breakdown.

The committed Pumas’ defence forced the All Blacks into making mistakes that could not be blamed on the weather. In the 13th minute, Ma’a Nonu lost possession in the tackle and Argentina sent the ball wide. Their forwards then bashed away at the line, with loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero finding a gap around the fringes to score the first try of the game.

Cruden’s boot edged the All Blacks back in front 6-5 soon after, but the handling errors continued with Kieran Read knocking on with the tryline in sight and Richie McCaw spilling the ball just before the break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen must have given his side a helluva tongue-lashing at half-time and a city-wide power failure gave him an extra 10 minutes to do so.

His side produced a better performance in the second half, with better conditions allowing them to sent the ball wide on two occassions that resulted in two tries.

But Hansen will be the first to admit that there is massive room for improvement, and Heyneke Meyer will be hoping the world champions don’t hit their straps in Dunedin next weekend.