All Blacks made to work hard as Argentina go down fighting
New Zealand 33 Argentina 10
My, how these Pumas made the All Blacks graft, a win that puts them through to a World Cup semi-final for an unprecedented sixth time.
They face Tri Nations adversaries Australia in Auckland on Sunday. On this showing, the outcome will be far from straightforward.
New Zealand were jittery, flawed and unable to do as they pleased in their first outing since Dan Carter was ruled out of the tournament. There is no doubt now that they will have to work for this World Cup. New Zealand breathed a sigh of relief given the trauma of their elimination at this stage four years ago in Cardiff. "We're through to a semi-final, (I've) never been there before, it feels amazing," said All Blacks coach Graham Henry.
It took an impressive kicking display from scrum-half Piri Weepu, who missed only one conversion in amassing 23 points, and a late try from Brad Thorn to give a flattering spin to the scoreboard. It was only in the last quarter that New Zealand pulled away as Argentina tired. The Pumas also got the rough end of referee Nigel Owens, having to get through a 10-minute spell without scrum-half Nicolas Vergallo, who was sin-binned midway through the second half. Argentina had every right to feel aggrieved.
New Zealand have issues to address. There were injuries to Mils Muliaina, whose tournament might be over after taking a blow to the shoulder, and Carter's stand-in at out-half, Colin Slade, who picked up a groin problem.
Mind you, Slade's deputy, 22-year-old Aaron Cruden, suggested it will soon be he who assumes the mantle of heir apparent to Carter.
In the half-hour he was on the field before departing with a groin injury, Slade seemed nervous and uncertain. Cruden, by contrast, was sure-footed and decisive. He looks as if he will be a handful. Problem wing Cory Jane, rapped over the knuckles for late-night boozing on Thursday, ran strong and true.
New Zealand were taken to the limit of their powers, their resolve and character thoroughly tested. If any doubted that Argentina would be worthy additions to the Tri Nations next year, they were roundly disabused of that notion.
This was no procession, more a pummelling as Argentina gave of themselves wholly and unceasingly, ceding not an inch on the gain-line and brooking no compromise in the tackle. It took the All Blacks until the 66th minute to cross the try-line, Kieran Read touching down after taking a neatly-delivered pass from Jerome Kaino.
It had looked as if it would take the dead-eyed boot of Weepu to see them home, an astonishing state of affairs given that they have scored at least one try in 93 successive Tests. But the Pumas had held firm, with Felipe Contepomi and powerhouse back-row forwards Juan Leguizamon and Leonardo Senatore -- whose storming upfield charge on the half-hour led to a try for Julio Cabello -- to the fore.
Eden Park, which has not witnessed an All Blacks defeat, fell silent, save for the various clutches of Argentina fans who were in full voice at the delicious thought of unlikely victory. But New Zealand gathered themselves. They limited their ambitions, picked and drove more, sucking in the Argentina defence and getting their due reward with tries from Read and Thorn.(© Daily Telegraph, London)
New Zealand -- M Muliaina (I Toeava 40); C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, SB Williams; C Slade (A Cruden 33), P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu (Hore 65), O Franks, B Thorn, S Whitelock (A Williams 62), J Kaino, R McCaw, K Read.
Tries: Read, Thorn; Con: Weepu; Pens: Weepu 7.
Argentina -- M Rodriguez; G Camacho, M Bosch, F Contepomi, H Agulla (J Jose Imhoff 50); S Fernandez, N Vergallo (A Lalanne 49); R Roncero (M Ayerza 39), M Ledesma (A Creevy 70), J Figallo (M Scelzo 59), M Carizza (A Campos 62), P Albacete, J Farias Cabello, JM Leguizamon, L Senatore.
Try: Farias Cabello; Con: Contepomi; Pen: Bosch.
Ref -- N Owens (Wales)