Sunday 21 January 2018

Nervy All Blacks edge thriller

World Cup Pool C: New Zealand 26 Argentina 16

Richie McCaw keeps his focus during New Zealand’s victory over Argentina
Richie McCaw keeps his focus during New Zealand’s victory over Argentina
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's the hope that inevitably kills you. Just ask Ireland.

Argentina's defeat may not have been as dramatic as the nightmare in Dublin two years ago but for almost an hour of yesterday's pulsating clash, the Pumas were in touching distance of a first ever victory over the mighty All Blacks.

New Zealand expects. More so than any other rugby nation. So it was perhaps just as well that the groans of disapproval from their supporters were drowned out by the raucous Argentinians, who almost witnessed their side pull off another upset on the same weekend as the greatest shock in World Cup history.

The 89,019 (a record for a World Cup game) who were crammed into Wembley Stadium were treated to a thrilling game but it was one that demonstrated that the All Blacks are not the invincible force that many think they are.

The Ireland players and management will have watched the game with keen interest. The winners of their pool will take on the runners-up of this pool and vice versa but any notions that Argentina would be 'easy' opponents were dispelled as they exposed plenty of chinks in the defending champions' armour.

Afterwards Richie McCaw described them as a "genuine threat" for the tournament.

Tears streamed from the faces of the Argentinian players during their national anthem but any fears that the occasion would overcome them were soon dashed.

The Pumas were happy to take on New Zealand at their own game but just as many have found out to their detriment in the past, that is a very risky strategy.

It worked for an hour but as Steve Hansen emptied his bench, the wave after wave of pressure eventually told on a defence that had worked tirelessly.

Aaron Smith showed just why he is the best scrum-half in the world when he pulled his side back in front with a sniping try just before the hour mark. That swung the momentum back into New Zealand's favour and silenced the Pumas' supporters.

Referee Wayne Barnes was typically busy in the first half and he showed three yellow cards, all merited.

McCaw has built his career by playing on the edge but he became the World Cup's pantomime villain as he was roundly booed by the majority of the crowd for the entire game.

Dan Carter had kicked the All Blacks into a 9-0 lead with Tomas Lavanini in the sin-bin but the All Blacks were pegged back when Guido Petti Pagadizaval barrelled his way over from close range.

Nicolas Sanchez, who was unerring with the boot, added the extras as the Pumas began to believe that the seemingly impossible was on.

McCaw had already had a couple of lucky escapes before Barnes eventually sent him to the sin-bin for a blatant trip on Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, which coach Steve Hansen branded a "brain explosion."

Sanchez duly punished McCaw's indiscipline to put his side into a 10-9 lead and he extended the advantage shortly after with Conrad Smith also in the bin.

There was still time left in the half for Carter to reduce the deficit to 13-12 at the break but shortly after the restart another Sanchez penalty punished New Zealand's indiscipline.

Nehe Milner-Skudder came into the tournament with a scintillating try-scoring record but with the line in touching distance, the winger somehow knocked the ball on after a trademark, one-handed Sonny Bill Williams off-load.

Williams had a huge impact off the bench and he was heavily involved in the move that led to Smith's converted try.

McCaw was guilty of butchering another gilt-edged chance, much to the satisfaction of the crowd, while Sam Cane also inexplicably knocked on in a five-minute spell that typified New Zealand's uncharacteristic sloppiness.

Cane atoned for his error by scoring a brilliantly worked try with 14 minutes left on the clock; at that stage, the Argentina players were out on their feet.

Should Ireland advance from their pool, they will know the scale of the challenge that lies ahead irrespective of which side they face but Aaron Smith was impressed by what he saw from Joe Schmidt's side against Canada.

"I watched a bit of their game and they looked really clinical but we're just keeping pretty short sighted at the moment and happy to get the win," the scrum-half said.

A winning start for the defending champions but one that will give hope to the rest of the world.

New Zealand - B Smith; N Milner-Skudder (B Barrett 50), C Smith, M Nonu (S-B Williams 45), J Savea; D Carter, A Smith (TJ Perenara 68); T Woodcock (W Crockett 45), D Coles (K Mealamu 68), O Franks (C Faumuina 50); B Retallick (V Vito 71), S Whitelock; J Kaino (S Cane 63), R McCaw (capt), K Read.

Argentina - J Tululet (L Amorosino 69); S Cordero, M Bosch, JM Hernandez, J Imahoff; N Sanchez (J De La Fuente 68), T Cubelli (M Landajo 61); M Ayerza, A Creevy (capt) (L Noguera Paz 69), FN Tetaz (R Herrera 55); GP Pagadizaval (M Galarza 23), T Lavanini; P Matera (Leguizamon 57), J M Fernandez Lobbe, L Senatore (J Montoya 64).

ref - W Barnes (England)

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