Scrumhalf TJ Perenara scored a try in each half as the All Blacks were pushed all the way by Argentina before they pulled away with two late tries in a 46-24 Rugby Championship triumph at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Saturday.
Perenara, who was given a rare start, also made a try-saving tackle on Matias Moroni and cleared up a loose ball in the goal area as the home side were regularly put under intense pressure from the Pumas.
Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, captain Kieran Read, Shannon Frizell and Jack Goodhue also scored tries for the All Blacks, who suffered injuries to lock Brodie Retallick (arm) and inside centre Ngani Laumape (knee) early in the game.
Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez scored a try and ended with 14 points to reach 655 in his career and surpass Felipe Contepomi as his country’s highest test scorer, while winger Ramiro Moyano and fullback Emiliano Boffelli also crossed for tries.
“The Argies really brought it to us today, and we expected that,” Read said in a post-match interview as New Zealand registered a third win in as many Rugby Championship matches after back-to-back triumphs over Australia.
“A lot of enterprise but not a lot of accuracy out there,” the number eight added. “You look at the scoreboard, we went alright there but not up to our high standards I guess. To take a bonus point win, we’re stoked with that.”
Mario Ledesma’s side were unlucky to have lost by such a wide margin as they took the contest to the All Blacks throughout, with Boffelli and Moyana popping up everywhere in the backline to exploit space.
Moyana’s slaloming run turned the All Blacks defenders inside out to give his side a 5-3 lead in the 15th minute after flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, making his first start, had settled his nerves with an earlier penalty.
The All Blacks just shaded the rest of the high-tempo first half with Milner-Skudder’s try the culmination of some superb interplay between backs and forwards, while Perenara crossed after a concerted build-up to give the hosts a 15-7 lead.
Mo’unga’s second penalty stretched the advantage to 18-7 at the break but the Pumas came out firing in the second half, with Sanchez scoring after Frizell had turned the ball over inside his own 22-metre area.
The All Blacks, however, exploited gaps in the midfield to extend their lead, with Ben Smith’s burst setting up field position for Read to go over in the corner, while Anton Lienert-Brown gave Perenara a clear run to the line for his second try.
Boffelli’s try from a well-worked attacking scrum narrowed the deficit once more, before the All Blacks blew the score out with tries to Frizell and Goodhue in the final six minutes.
“The first (half) was really, really fast and I think we struggled with that,” Pumas captain Agustin Creevy said.
“We feel good, we feel strong, we will continue. We had a lot of opportunities and we had a good result. We need to improve, we are building a good team, good rugby.”