That the All Blacks could beat Argentina 46-24 in the Nelson rugby test despite losing second half possession and territory by a huge margin once again demonstrated their uncanny ability to score from limited chances.
Although beaten six tries to three, the Pumas scored three corkers, especially the stunnng first to wing Ramiro Moyano, which was matched by the All Blacks’ last to Jack Goodhue.
With the exception of captain Kieran Read, the other four to PJ Perenara (2), Nehe Milner-Skudder and Shannon Frizell were scored by players who don’t usually make the starting 15. Yet all performed to the manner born, such is the incredible depth at the selectors’ disposal.
With Ngani Laumape (shoulder) joining the concussed Ryan Crotty and injury-prone Sonny Bill Williams among the walking wounded, Anton Lienert-Brown and rookie Goodhue once again gelled beautifully in the midfield, combining sharp attack and well-timed passing with rock solid defence.
Richie Mounga converted all six All Blacks tries and added two penalties. He performed well in his first test after a slow start despite finding experienced Pumas first-five Sanchez a handful.
Halfback Perenara played a blinder, capped by his second try off a wonderful Lienert-Brown break and some superb cover defence.
With Read, Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock maintaining their usual high standards, flankers Frizell and Ardie Savea rose to the occasion magnificently.
Despite his inexperience, the fast and robust Frizell has the athleticism to be a serious challeger to Liam Squire for the No 6 jersey.
Ben Smith, as always, was outstanding at fullback, especially when taking the ball as first receiver, while Damian McKenzie’s elusive running and snappy passing was top class.
While coach Steve Hansen will be wanting better possession and territory figures against South Africa this Saturday, he won’t be worried about a scrum for which new prop Karl Tu’inukuafe has added strenghth.
Sadly a bad shoulder injury to champion lock Brodie Retallick is likely to keep him out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship in which New Zealand remain unbeaten after three rounds.
He is a huge loss but muscular squad replacement Patrick Tuipulotu’s hat-trick of tries in Auckland’s upset 36-10 win against Tasman suggests he is starting to reach his potential.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author