New boys to the fore as All Blacks rout Pumas to close in on record
New Zealand locked up their 16th Test win in a row with a 36-17 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday, but the bad news for the rest of world rugby was not just the five-try blitz that triggered it.
A year after Richie McCaw and Dan Carter led a golden generation of players into international retirement, the production line of talent that has kept the All Blacks top of the rugby world for a decade shows no sign of slowing.
Having wrapped up the Rugby Championship title with two rounds to spare, coach Steve Hansen gave starts to a trio of inexperienced players and was rewarded with a bruising performance from lock Patrick Tuipulotu. Flanker Liam Squire's evening was complicated by a 'team' yellow card doled out in the second half but the pick of the bunch was centre Anton Lienert-Brown.
The 21-year-old's 27th-minute try, crashing over the line after Beauden Barrett showed quick hands to get him the ball, was the least spectacular of his contributions to four of New Zealand's five scores.
Two brilliant offloads gave tries to Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith, while his charge-down of a Santiago Gonzales Iglesias kick led to a score for hooker Dane Coles, but only after Lienert-Brown had lobbed the ball inside for the final pass.
"He is growing all the time and one thing he has got is a beautiful offloading game and we saw a lot of that tonight from him," Hansen said at Velez Sarsfield.
"As he gets older and plays more rugby I think that'll be one of his trademarks.
"Patrick played particularly well in his first half. He had some strong carries and some great defensive work," Hansen added.
The world champions head to Durban for their final Rugby Championship Test next weekend and victory over South Africa at Kings Park would match the top tier record for consecutive wins.
That record is currently held by the 1965-69 and 2013-14 All Blacks and 1997-98 Springboks but on this form, few would bet against Hansen's team going one better when they meet Australia at fortress Eden Park in a non-championship Test in October.